Producing effective teacher preparation programs

During my twenty-two years in teacher education, I have seen my
share of weaknesses in teacher preparation in private as well as public
institutions. And there is no legitimate excuse for most of the
problems that exist in teacher preparation today.

High educational standards and expectations of students — along
with hard work — can produce a strong program where a weak one has
existed for years. However, it takes consistency of expectation and
commitment from faculty and administrators — including the president
— to develop a sound foundation and maintain a strong teacher
preparation program.

It is with a great deal of professional interest, therefore, that I
am observing the national trends in proposed and adopted legislation
affecting these programs. One of the most salient proposals was
recently made by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). If approved, this
piece of legislation would radically change the face of teacher
preparation.

Bingaman’s bill links institutional eligibility for Title IV
student financial assistance to the performance of its students on
their state licensing exams. But surprisingly, this proposal has
created quite a stir. Most teacher educators and administrators are
fearful of the potential monetary consequences of this bill.

A few of us, however, are pleased that such a “radical” proposal is
being considered. Of course, none sees the amendment as a panacea for
all of the problems of weak teacher preparation programs. Still, the
bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation proposed in
recent years.

Teacher preparation programs can no longer be exempt from the kind
of standards expected of any other profession in our nation. If a
teacher preparation program cannot prepare its students to meet even
the minimum standard of passing a licensing exam, the program should be
deleted from the college or university offerings.

Surprisingly, lack of accountability continues to be the hallmark
of many administrators of teacher preparation programs, even though
accountability is addressed in almost all reports critical of teacher
preparation.

Below I have noted a number of characteristics that can accurately predict a weak teacher preparation program:

* Administrative support is missing. Teacher education is not a
priority and administrators generally do not know what is going on in
the School/College/Department of Education (SCDE). These programs need
an effective leader who is knowledgeable of the cutting-edge issues in
education. This leader should also be involved in professional
activities on the local, state, and national level.

* The SCDE budget is inadequate to support quality programs, and/or
it does not reflect equity among all of the institution’s budgetary
commitments.

* There is no plan for recruiting and retaining highly qualified
faculty, and competent faculty that is already there receive no
incentives to remain.

* Programs that don’t offer scholarships, book stipends, tuition
vouchers, or similar incentives lack the enticements required to
recruit high-caliber students.

* Students are denied adequate space to prepare and practice newly acquired teaching skills.

* Quantity is substituted for quality. Standards are either lowered
to accommodate students who have not mastered the skills of speaking,
reading, writing, and computation or not practiced in the rush to
produce more “educators.”

* Written policies, practices, and procedures are unenforced.

* There is little interest in professional accreditation because
that might result in higher expectations, greater accountability, or
closure of the program.

* There is little faculty collaboration within the SCDE. And, that
lack of collaboration also exists between the SCDE faculty and the arts
and sciences faculty.

* Faculty and students are computer illiterate. Technology is seen
as a “passing fancy” and the infusion of it into the curriculum is
neither taught nor practiced.

* Collaboration with the K-12 school is minimal. Teacher education
exists in isolated modules where coursework is separated from practice.

* Grade inflation is practiced, and competent students are seldom challenged.

* Faculty development is not encouraged and grant writing is not a priority.

* Incompetent professors remain protected and employed while negative student evaluations are ignored.

* A fifth year is added in order to graduate from an SCDE, but
often, instead of learning new work, the students are given more of the
same.

Whenever these weaknesses are identified and the deficiencies are
removed, a strong teacher preparation program usually emerges.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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