Shaking dust off teacher education

Report says teacher college training needs to be updated.
Monday, November 27, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

A four-year study of the nation’s 1,200 schools of education calls teacher colleges “the Dodge City of the education world,” saying they are as chaotic as the fabled Old West town.

Education programs in the United States are outdated, according to a report released in September by the Education Schools Project. The chief criticism of the report, “Educating School Teachers,” is that teacher colleges’ curricula are too theoretical, leaving students at a loss when they are placed into a classroom for the first time. It suggests that teacher colleges should place students in classrooms as early as their sophomore year.

The education programs at most Missouri teacher colleges, however, already live up to the project’s standards, said Rusty Rosenkoetter, the director of teacher certification at Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Most Missouri teacher colleges require that students go through a practical component before their junior year, many as early as their freshman year, Rosenkoetter said.

Students in MU’s education program start spending time as observers in classrooms during their sophomore year, said MU School of Education spokesperson Megan Ryder. She said the program incorporates a combination of lecture with practical application.

“Today, every education course has a field-based component,” Ryder said.

The Education Schools Project — founded by Arthur Levine, former president and professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University — calls the report the most comprehensive survey of educators and educational policy makers, combining the perspectives of education school deans, faculty, students, alumni and school principals.

The report offers suggestions for how teacher colleges can better meet the needs of the nation’s schools and students, including greater focus on classroom practices, measuring teacher success by student achievement and making teacher education programs five years rather than four.

U.S. News and World Report has ranked several of MU’s College of Education programs in the top 25 nationwide. Ryder said MU’s teacher education program was reformed in the early 1990s after faculty members began to notice the program was lacking in practical application.

“There was clearly a need for the revamping of the program,” Ryder said.

In addition to placing students in observation roles in classrooms, Ryder said the new program also established the college’s “senior year on-site program,” which puts senior education majors in classrooms for a full year.

The education program at Columbia College beats the standard set by the report by placing students in classrooms during their freshman year, said Terry Smith, the college’s dean of academic affairs. Smith said the teacher education program requires that students be placed in classrooms 12 different times before graduation.

The project’s report also criticized teacher colleges for having too many faculty who have been out of the classroom for too long to be in touch with the elementary and secondary education field.

However, Joanna Hoeppner, a music teacher at Columbia’s Blue Ridge Elementary School and an MU alumna, said many faculty members at MU made an effort to visit or participate in classrooms in order to avoid losing touch. She said she was generally confident that her instructors were familiar enough with a classroom setting to provide ample preparation for their students.

Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teacher Association, said he also feels that students should be trained more in their disciplines before entering the classroom.

“Nobody should have the opportunity to say that your math degree is inferior because it’s a math education degree,” Fuller said. “A math degree should be considered comparable across the board.”

Fuller also said he agrees that education students need to be placed in classrooms early. He said it would allow students to decide early whether teaching is right for them.

“We don’t want teachers to burn out,” Fuller said. “They need to get there early.”

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