Eliminate Schools of Education

For education reformers, Schools of Education are an especially popular punching bag.

Here are the most oft repeated criticisms: 1) Most School of Ed faculty last taught decades ago; consequently, they teach wonderful sounding theories that are woefully disconnected from day-to-day realities in schools. 2) Higher education faculty always assume a certain superiority. As one of many possible examples, they’re not teachers, they’re “academics”. Arrogance personified. 3) Schools of Ed are resistant to change and clueless that they’re a serious impediment to strengthening public schooling in the U.S. 4) In the end, they do a crappy job preparing teachers.

I’ve always responded differently to these criticisms than many of my School of Ed colleagues. Many teacher educators immediately turn defensive, and consequently, don’t bother honestly assessing their validity. At the risk of committing professional treason, I choose to process the criticisms this way.

1) Most School of Ed faculty last taught in public schools decades ago; consequently, they teach wonderful sounding theories that are woefully disconnected from day-to-day realities in schools. Mostly true. I’d say wholly true if the criticism was “ . . . wonderful sounding theories that don’t have enough to do with day-to-day realities in schools.” I taught high school for five years twenty years ago and that’s longer and more recently than many of my colleagues. And like all of my colleagues, I made a conscious decision to leave high school teaching. Why don’t more pre-service students ask, “If teaching is so important a form of public service, why did all of you quit?” Many of my colleagues would probably answer “to make a larger impact by doing a good job preparing the next generation of teachers,” but that’s putting duct tape on an ever-present tension and credibility problem between our having jumped ship and encouraging our students to be resilient and commit for the long haul.

2) Higher education faculty always assume a certain superiority. As one of many possible examples, they’re not teachers, they’re “academics”. Arrogance personified. Embarrassingly true, way too often. As a result, mentor teachers understandably sometimes develop negative attitudes towards teacher educators, putting interns in an awkward position.

3) Schools of Ed are resistant to change and clueless that they’re a serious impediment to strengthening public schooling in the U.S. Mostly true. Probably because teacher education faculty need to pay mortgages and health premiums. Put differently, they fear for their jobs. It’s evident in how little School of Education curricula change over time and in teacher education profs’ knee-jerk negative reactions to nearly any kind of alternative certification preparation.

4) In the end, they do a crappy job preparing teachers. Depends. There’s an unevenness. Some teacher preparation programs do a solid job; others do not.

What would work better for the tens of thousands of pre-service teachers who are preparing to enter the profession at any time? Giving National Board Certified teacher leaders in each school responsibility for preparing a small number of student teachers each school year would work better. Probably a lot better.

Why don’t we do that then? Because K-12 administrators and teachers have delegated the preparation of their future co-workers to my School of Ed colleagues and me. The profession hasn’t figured out how to carve out the necessary time to prepare the next generation of teachers themselves because they haven’t deemed it important enough.

Far easier for school districts to complain about Schools of Education than figure out how to make them, as the British say, redundant.

The best teacher prep programs are mindful of the most common criticisms and are the ones building close partnerships with neighboring districts; demonstrating genuine respect for the excellent, inspiring work K-12 teachers do; using clinical professors, including current National Board Certified teachers as methods instructors; and using veteran teachers and administrators as student teaching supervisors.

I’m sympathetic to the most common criticisms of my profession; nonetheless, I can’t support the most strident critics’ recommendation to eliminate Schools of Ed altogether until school districts make teacher preparation one of their top priorities and dedicate the necessary time, money, and related resources to doing it better than the majority of imperfect university-based teacher preparation programs.

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