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Maher: Mistaking Reform for Compliance

This is a guest post from Michael Maher, [@mj_maher], who works at the NC State education school, in response to a recent post from Paul Bruno:

C.a.muller via Flickr Creative CommonsAfter reading Paul’s post I found myself falling into the “defending teacher prep at all costs” trap, something I am less comfortable with than you might think, but it drove me to think about why reform in teacher prep is so hard.  

I believe in teacher preparation we often mistake reform for compliance.  We are constantly expected to modify and adapt programs based on changes in licensure exams, legislative mandates, new curricular or assessment standards, suggestions from partner school systems or occasionally, because of a legislator’s particular interest. 

Often, these changes we’re expected to make are based on anecdotal evidence. This amounts to asking professionals whose work, tenure, and promotion are based on their ability to provide valid and reliable research to make changes to programs based on far lesser standards.

Here in North Carolina we were mandated by the State Board of Education in 2008 to “Re-Vision” our programs for the 21st Century .  This was truly a reform effort, but again, not based on research.   As a resutl, many teacher preperation programs in NC, including my own, are quite different from what they were.   For example, in many instances the student teaching experience extends over the course of a year, candidates demonstrate their ability to utilize formative and summative assessments, and both the common core and 21st Century Skills are integrated into lesson planning.

We are just now turning our graduates from these redesigned programs and the early results look promising and yet many of us are now looking to adapt our programs to meet the proposed CAEP standards and implementation of the edTPA.  These are pretty significant changes.

We need to be careful of reforming just for the sake of reform.  Evidence and best practice matter, content and pedagogy matter, and yes diversity and social justice matter too.  We seem to get beat up regardless of the route we take, offer too little content and the claims are that your graduates are too weak academically.  Offer the wrong “kind” or too much pedagogical practice and you’re not preparing candidates for the realities of the classroom.  Lack a diverse population so you require diversity and/or social justice courses and now you’re too focused on social justice.  Teaching is complex, difficult work and preparing teachers is extremely challenging.  The challenge is only exacerbated when we think about the number of different contexts teachers work within (e.g. rural, urban, suburban schools, high and low poverty schools, magnet/theme schools).

In light of all of the hits teacher education has taken recently, I, like Alexander, do see a great deal of potential for substantial progress.  New accountability measures like the teacher effectiveness work in NC and around the country, new CAEP accreditation standards and more rigorous admission requirements for candidates, and new performance measures like the edTPA might be just what we need to “reform” teacher preparation.

Image via CAMuller Flickr

Previous Maher posts: Duncan Discredits Himself on Ed School DiversityNot Every Alternative Certification Program Is TFAA Low-Cost, High-Retention Program



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I certainly hope I didn't imply that I think teacher preparation can't be improved; I think it can. I mostly just meant to try to illuminate why it's an inherently difficult thing to do. And even looking at, for example, the CAEP standards, they seem, if anything, somewhat less specific than CA's existing standards, which themselves have resulting in considerable heterogeneity between programs.

They might still be an improvement, but they clearly haven't "squared the circle" on standards: overly-specific standards won't develop a consensus behind them, and less-specific standards will have less practical power to impact teacher prep (for better or for worse).

No, I don't think that was the case. My point was primarily that many programs think they are reforming, when in fact, they're really just responding to some new mandate. While it looks, from the outside, that teacher preparation programs operate freely, we're actually highly regulated (sometimes in an indirect way). For example, not only do we have national accreditation standards (CAEP), we also have state standards and while there is some overlap there are always additional topics we are held accountable for. On top of the standards, which can be generic as you noted, we also have some very specific things, such as the requirement (legislatively mandated!) in NC that all teacher candidates are instructed in "appropriate seclusion and restraint". Federal Title II, requires us to report on use of technology and special education instruction (including specifically PBS). These are only a small sample of our "mandates" and don't even include those required by our University administration. I think what has happened is that as more groups have put (and continue to put) their hands into teacher preparation we end up with a series of disconnected requirements rather than a cohesive set of expectations for all teacher candidates regardless of institution or content area. Since, we always in response mode, we feel like we're "reforming" but really just more often just "tinkering around the edges".

Yes - of late the mandates come so fast that before one can be implemented in a meaningful way, more appear to change the landscape. The way that the NC revisioning seems to have just been forgotten by those pursuing the newest flavor of the month is disheartening.

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