Sunday, April 13, 2014

So Who Needs Teacher Training? Surely Not College Professors.

Proponents of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) hold as an article of faith that a K-12 teacher can be properly trained in five or fewer weeks. After all, doesn't Teach for America train them in that amount of time and they all do fabulously well? So media hype would have us believe. Arizona's Governor Brewer must not have drunk her portion of the Teach For America Kool-Aid because she just line-item vetoed a half million dollars out of the 2014-15 state budget that had been earmarked for TFA. Why the Arizona legislature was trying to give $500,000 to its department of education that would subsequently give it to TFA is a story for another day. Perhaps the intention was to help cover Wendy Kopp's salary, which is reported to be in the vicinity of $500,000 annually.

Charter school companies also buy into the myth that K-12 teachers need no special training; all they need is a mastery of the subject they teach. BASIS charter schools – incredibly ranked twice in the top 10 high schools in the America by US News and World Report – doesn't just ridicule "ed school trained teachers" in its sales pitches, it refers to its own teachers as "subject specialists." (More on this some day.) Surely the clearest proof that "ed school training" of teachers is not just a waste but an abomination is the fact that "teachers" at grades 13-16 (Freshmen through Senior years of college) need no training at all. They are "subject specialists" and, like BASIS instructors, that is enough.

As in so many respects, the comparison between Grade 12 and Grade 13 in the American education system can be very revealing about some policy issues. If subject specialists are effective and competent teachers at Grades 13-16 without any "ed school training" whatsoever, then why insist on "ed school training" of teachers for Grades K-12? Why? Because subject specialists at Grades 13-16 are NOT effective and competent teachers. Indeed, as a matter of probability, your chances of encountering an awful college professor are many times greater than your chances of encountering an awful K-12 "ed school trained" teacher.

A personal reflection: Though I attended elementary and secondary school starting some 70 years ago, I can scarcely recall two teachers out of about 50 whom I would regard as not competent or very ineffective – and one became my future father-in-law, I must report without prejudice. And yet, through seven years of university study and having taught for 50 years myself, I can confidently say that ineffective, untrained subject specialists were hardly rare. Indeed, the worst teaching I was ever subjected to and much of the worst teaching I have ever committed was done by college professors.

TFA & charter school teachers are not trained in ed schools.
College professors are not trained in ed schools.
Therefore, TFA & charter school teachers are as effective as college professors.
This syllogism suffers from an undistributed middle and begs the question that college subject matter specialists are good teachers. Many of them are not. Nor are many TFA and charter school subject matter specialists.
In the spirit of hard-nosed quantitative research, I just checked the student ratings of the teachers in my high school (1955-58) and the professors in my college (1958-61) and the high school teachers beat the college professors.

For more on "Myth 14.Subject matter knowledge is the most important asset a teacher can possess," see 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the story of Why the Arizona legislature was trying to give $500,000 to its department of education that would subsequently give it to TFAis more interesting than the story you tell here, but your story today is "interesting enough" and is worthy of further attention.

    The thing about all myths is that they have a grain of "truthiness," but if we rely on the myth, it eventually proves not to square with reality. The squaring is what science and technology is all about, but education borrows its science from other disciplines and and treats "technology" as equipment that teachers are responsible to make "work." Not smart and not fair, but such is life.

    Myth 14 would be equally valid stated as "Subject matter knowledge is NOT the most important asset a teacher can possess", but that wouldn't change the 'truthiness" of the myth.

    The very first large-scale educational research study, "The Teacher Characteristics Study" supported by a grant the Grant Foundation, and conducted at UCLA in the early 1950s, showed that teachers and teaching in elementary schools are very "different animals" than those in secondary schools. And "post-secondary education" is a different zoo altogether.

    Since the time of that study, Information Technology has advanced and has dramatically affected nearly every sector of life other than pre-collegiate education, providing an additional factor to consider. But pre-collegiate education not only failed to learn from The Teacher Characteristics Study findings, the study has all-but been forgotten.

    Myth 14 makes a case for PCK--"Pedagogical Content Knowledge is part content knowledge and also part pedagogical or instructional knowledge but it is also neither and both, a bit of chimera." So this is the best that "scholars that study teaching” can do? Watch out for the chimera!

    Since the blog is into ranking "teaching," my ranking would put Community College instructors on the top as t "best of breed." Why? A Community College faculty, for the most part, is drawn from successful secondary school teachers and/or the "trades" who want to "move on" and are willing/able to put up with the wide range of idiosyncrasies they encounter in students, and seek to enable students to attain fairly-well-defined accomplishments which the instructors themselves have attained "the hard way."

    At the bottom of my ranking would be "University Math Professors." Student selectivity bails some of math profs out, and TA's also help in the bailing. But selecting math profs at random would be the best proof that "college profs could stand some teacher ed."