The most important factor influencing student academic achievement is the curriculum, instructional practices, and assessments used by teachers. Recent research by John Hattie provide abundant support for the effectiveness of a wide variety of instructional practices that influence student academic achievement. If the strongest influencing student academic achievement is instructional practice, then looking at student academic outcomes can be directly attributed to the effectiveness of teacher implementation of instructional practices.
Yet when we look at both NAEP and PISA results, we find that American students are far below proficiency levels. Data visualizations that I produced for school districts within my home county of Santa Clara, demonstrate mediocre to poor performance in ELA and Math for many school districts. You can see these data visualizations at http://sipbigpicture.com. I have included the Math Performance for my hone district San Jose Unified below. You reap what you sow.
It is apparent that our professional practices are still not up to the important task of ensuring academic achievement for all students. The preparation of teachers to become experts in the use of curriculum, instructional practices, and assessments falls on the shoulders of our Colleges of Education. However, our Colleges of Education have become the ultimate fog machines in the production of teachers who are woefully lacking in both academic content knowledge and pedagogy. This is not to deny that there are many special case examples of teachers who excel despite coming of underperforming Colleges of Education and there are some examples of high performing Colleges of Education.
The systemic failure of the Colleges of Education puts our school districts in a constant state of perpetual triage of professional development and coaching to shore up teacher deficiencies in content knowledge and pedagogy. It is important that we dispel this fog and insist that our Colleges of Educations transform into respectable institutions of higher learning that prepare their candidates to become high-performing professionals who are ready, willing, and most importantly able to ensure the academic achievement of all of our students.
The Colleges of Education is a system that begins with the recruitment of potential teacher candidates, accepting teacher candidates, engaging them in a teacher preparation program, student teaching, and graduation and preparation for certification. The caliber of students entering college in general is not too strong. Research has shown that one half of students entering two-year colleges require remediation and one fifth entering four-year colleges require remediation. Almost all students who engage in remediation courses never matriculate into college level courses. All of this a testimony of the inability of our K12 education system to prepare students for college.
Even as we see the caliber of college entering freshman being rather low with regard to academic preparedness, we also have the problem that our best and brightest college graduates do not see the teaching profession as a viable option. A recent poll of voters aged 18-29 showed that only about one quarter would be very likely to recommend that a friend or family member become a teacher. Top college graduates pick the teaching profession as last among a list of 14 possible professions.
Teacher Preparation Programs (TPP) do not have rigorous acceptance criteria either. 40% of TPP set a minimum grade point average for entrance. About 2/3 of TPPs accept more than half of applicants and one quarter accept nearly all applicants. Teacher candidates with high ACT or SAT scores, GPAs, and class rank have been shown to perform better on assessments used to gauge teaching effectiveness. While the academic preparation of teacher candidates may be a strong indicator of the quality of future teacher quality, it is not the only metric. One must also consider the quality and rigor of the teacher preparation programs themselves.
When we look at actual Teacher Preparation Programs, we see a minimal focus on academic content, curriculum and practices. For example, the vision and guiding principles of the Multiple-Subjects Credential Program for Elementary Teachers at San Jose State University (SJSU) falls far short of explicitly identifying what teachers should know and be able to do when they enter into the profession. The vision itself is a murky and politically correct statement of generalities that provide a light touch to the primary focus which should be academic content knowledge and expertise in the practices that will help all students achieve academic success.
The Guiding Principles that accompany the vision also reflect a bias toward a politically correct commitment that fails to call out the need for teachers to be able to effectively use research-based instructional practices at high levels of performance. There is no indication in the principles that define the ability of teachers to be able to use assessments to gauge student knowledge and skills and to diagnose student learning needs and create high quality instructional interventions to address student learning needs that they monitor and continue to improve. The words are a raft of educational jargon surrounded in a fog of political correctness signifying almost nothing.
Things don’t get much better when we take a look at the courses for the Elementary Education Teacher Program at SJSU and Preliminary Certification for the State of California.
From a big picture perspective, the primary requirement of a College of Education is to prepare prospective teachers in the fundamental elements of curriculum, professional practices, and assessments. The syllabus is very deficient as it relates to this requirement. This syllabus appears to be a Pot Pourri of courses that meet the esoteric needs of college professors rather than a well thought out program of courses that actually prepare students for work within classrooms. Noteworthy, in the syllabus is the absence of courses related to the teaching practices that teachers will need to use in classrooms except as it relates to Health and Special Education. Additionally, no courses are required to provide teachers with a fundamental understanding and ability to effectively use assessments.
In order to engage in the Field Experience courses, one would expect that teachers would have engaged in a full array of courses aligned with teaching practices and assessments. It is almost as if the college ascribes to the idea that participation in specific curriculum courses is sufficient to prepare students for knowledge and ability to use professional practices. Incorporating a course about the Critical Perspectives on Schooling in a Pluralistic Society within the Field Experience seems misplaced and not aligned with the need to prepare students for the fundamental elements of the teaching profession. There is really not enough time within the program to focus on politically correct courses at the expense of courses aligned with the fundamental elements of teaching.
Additionally, it is not clear why there is a focus on Health and Special Education within the Foundation Courses. Why do we include an emphasis on research in these important but second-tier areas and not include research within the other curriculum courses? Additionally, why are we dealing with classroom issues Language/Literacy for L2 Learners when we should focus on the main event of supporting English Language acquisition of L2 students through curricula, practices, and assessments. Speaking of L2, it appears that the college supports the participation of L2 students within the teacher preparation program offering some courses taught in both Spanish and English. Should we not expect our teacher candidates to be fluent in English before matriculation into a Teacher preparation program?
As we can see from their vision, principles, and syllabi, it is clear that Colleges of Education like SJSU do not go far enough in their support of preparing teachers for the actual work that they will be doing in classrooms upon graduation and certification. Additionally, the research agenda of professors within the college often do not always align with the classroom work of teachers. Professors will often pursue research agendas that at best are tangential to the real pragmatic needs of teachers. Teachers and college of education researchers do not work together on mutually supportive research agendas. It is as if researchers find the work of teaching below their status as the intellectual elite with the world of education. An example of an article written by a professor at SJSU can be found below.
Ahlquist, R., Gorski, P., & Montaño, T. (2011). Assault on kids: How hyper-accountability, corporatization, deficit ideologies, and Ruby Payne are destroying our schools. New York: Peter Lang.
Not all of the work of professors is esoteric and divorced from the real-world work of teachers. Brent Druckor an assistant professor at SJSU, engaged the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the Bear Center the University of California, and Palo Alto Unified School District teachers to build a useful progression of quality in the implementation of formative assessment instructional practices. Brent made a great effort to build a progression of formative assessment performances that aligned with scale values being proposed by the Bear Center. This work initiated a process to quantify a professional practice of teachers using a well-defined scale. This effort is admirable, but a wide gulf still exists between the research work of the Colleges of Education and the work of teachers within classrooms. There still is a long way to go but inroads are being made to better link teacher professional practice and educational research.
The continuous and relentless infusion of unprepared teachers into the K-12 education system by the Colleges of Education is a very serious drag on the ability of the system to provide high quality education to all students. The solution to this enormous problem will not be found at the school or district levels. However, it would be a good idea for school districts to screen candidates for Student Teaching to meet certain performance criteria in curricula knowledge, instructional practices, and assessments. Additionally, school districts should consider advancing and remunerating expert teachers rather than trying to fire them in order to hire younger but less-prepared teachers. The Colleges of Education will require transformative change that should begin with a Blue-Ribbon Commission sponsored by the Federal Government to expose the many structural and political problems with the College of Education System and make recommendations for a transformation of the system.
Improvement of the Colleges of Education will require consideration of the following essential elements;
- Commit to a primary focus on building teachers who can successfully implement curricula, professional practices, and assessments in ways that advance academic achievement for all students.
- Partner closely with school districts to continuously engage professors and teacher candidates in ongoing opportunities to practice knowledge and skills within the classroom and not just during the Field Practicum block of time.
- Engage in mutual research between school districts and Colleges of Education that closely link to the instructional practices of teachers.
- Create career pathway for teachers that begins with recruitment, education, internships, residency, and professional advancement.
- Track College of Education graduates for success in the implementation of curricula, professional practices, assessments, as well as student outcomes.
- Evaluated Colleges of Education based on criteria that align with these essential elements and make these evaluations public.
- Colleges of Education should play an ongoing role in the career trajectory of teachers as they advance within their profession such as providing badges of increasing professionalism and expertise as it relates to their ability to implement professional practices.
- Sanctions and rewards the Colleges of Education based upon the success of their graduates in demonstrating excellence in professional practices as well as helping all students achieve academic success.
- Participate in Baldrige Award opportunities or similar on a regular basis in order to maintain and continuously improve their own practices and outcomes toward excellence.
The systemic structural shortcomings within the Colleges of Education are significant and must be addressed before we have any hope of dispelling the suffocating fog of education. It is not acceptable for school districts to engage in perpetual professional development and coaching triage to accommodate the holes that exist within teacher preparation. It is better to address the needs of prospective teachers at the beginning of their professional journeys rather than later. We must address the significant problem of the Colleges of Education as soon as possible with the eye to transformation rather than provide technical short-term fixes. It will be the single most important thing that we can do to raise the status of the teaching profession, provide for respectable career trajectories for our teachers, and ensure that all children have the chance to advance academically within our society so that they are truly ready for college and career.
Butrymowicz, Sarah. The Hechinger Report. PBS New Hour. 2017. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/colleges-enroll-students-arent-prepared-higher-education
Feuer, Michael, J. et al. Evaluation of Teacher Preparation Programs. 2013. National Academy of Education. Washington, D.C.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. 2009. Routledge.
School Improvement Big Picture Web site. http://sipbigpicture.com
Strauss, Valerie. Why today’s college students don’t want to be teachers. Washington Post. 2015.