I have been thinking recently about how to change teacher training and certification programs. Kevin Carey points out that the onus should be on the Stanfords and Harvards of the world to create and pilot high-level teacher training programs. Meanwhile, Dana Goldstein, taking issue with Joel Klein’s suggestion of the awfulness of certification programs, notes that more traditionally-certified teachers at high-needs schools feel satisfied with their preparation than alternatively-certified teachers.
Let’s try putting some of this data together:
- Education majors learn the least general knowledge in college (less than business majors!).
- Teachers from traditional certification programs feel more satisfied with their preparation than alternative-certified teachers
- Nevertheless, teachers perform the same regardless of how they were certified. (PDF)
- Satisfaction and self-confidence are not necessarily great indicators of relative skill and success. (See the Dunning-Kruger effect)
To respond to Goldstein, it seems entirely possible that the certification programs are bad, but teachers still feel satisfied with them. Furthermore, it is likely that lax certification (such as setting low bars for content knowledge and student-teaching hours) is actually preferable for prospective teachers.
The general point, then, rather than to nitpick between traditional and alternative programs, is that there may well be something wrong with the content that we require for teachers, rather than merely the method with which it is administered. Maybe our focus on skills-based learning is misguided; maybe our relentless focus on pedagogy is less important than content; maybe we need to focus less on “relating to students” and more on actually knowing the content material being taught.
In all the discussion of education reform, very little has been said about the actual stuff that teachers learn. Most education schools are clones of one another — teaching largely the same content in largely the same way. The content is cursory; middle school humanities teachers relearn middle school humanities, rather than deepening or broadening their knowledge. Pedagogy is largely abstract, with limited chances for application. Student-teaching experiences vary widely.
Education reformers often critique poorly-designed state curricula for K-12. It seems natural that they should critique poorly-designed curricula for teachers as well.