Fantastic piece in today’s WSJ. In Why Teacher Colleges Get a Flunking Grade two education professionals say it’s time to give up on education majors. “Too much theory, not enough practical learning about teaching.” A-frickin-men!
How can new teachers be expected to educate children without first having been trained well? The problem, put simply, is that entrance requirements to most colleges of education are too lax, and the requirements for graduation are too low.
Most colleges and universities have no incentive to change: The education schools are cash cows, milked for the benefit of the rest of the institution and rarely held accountable for being subpar. Education curricula are almost uniformly out of date and far too theoretical, with minimal classroom-teaching requirements. Too often, these future educators learn to “teach” math, but they don’t necessarily learn how to do the math itself…Essential and practical teaching skills, like classroom management, took a back seat to endless discussions of theories about how we learn—which won’t seem very relevant to a struggling first-year teacher.
I’ve loved the first of their two “simple but radical” ideas for 25 years: major in the subject in which you intend to teach, minor in education (much of which is psychobabble nonsense anyway). I’d never heard of their second (see below) yet love it just as much. Until the power of the education establishment – teachers colleges, unions, and state curricla boards – is curtailed, there is no hope for public education in America. So sad.
Two simple but radical changes could transform teaching in America. First, require aspiring teachers to major in something other than education. Students who want to be math teachers must major in math, for example, and fulfill the same graduation requirements as the school’s other math majors. Same for English and science. That alone would improve the quality of teachers enormously.
Next, take state funding for colleges of education and give it to school districts instead. The districts would take on the obligation of teacher training, either doing it themselves or contracting with an outside organization or university. Many districts already train this way with what’s called “alternative certification,” and research suggests that these programs can be more effective than traditional, college-based programs.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission found in a 2012 study that several alternative-certification programs were among the state’s most effective teacher-training programs. Their success affirms that the technical teaching skills learned while in the classroom are generally far more important than all the theory learned in college.
Many good school districts have robust professional development programs for their already-hired teachers. Requiring them to supervise or provide training for new teachers is simply an add-on to a program, not a new invention. In general, empowering school districts to provide teacher training will make them much more demanding than colleges of education—because districts have to live with the results.