Friday, November 14, 2008

What is so wrong about Traiditional Teacher Training Programs?

A few days back, I posted on a story from Eduwonk having to deal with "traditional teaching programs" vs. newer, alternative teaching programs. The program I am currently in probably falls under that first category. I am not against the alternative programs, but the more blogs and education websites I read, it seems the more hostility I find towards programs like mine. The attitude seems to be, "alternative programs like Teach for America are the wave of the future, and more traditional programs need to get out of the way".

Then Monday, Alexander Russo (my favorite education blogger), posted about Linda Darling-Hammond as a potential appointment to Education Secretary by Obama. Russo's post is as much about Obama as it is about Darling-Hammond. But he warns that if Darling-Hammond is Obama's nominee, there could be a backlash against her by those in the education community who believe in major reforms in education. The reason for such a backlash? She was one of the earliest critics of Teach For America:

"The possibility of Darling-Hammond being named Secretary has emerged as an especially worrisome possibility among a small but vocal group of younger, reform-minded advocates who supported Obama because he seemed reform-minded on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. These reformistas seem to perceive Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure who will destroy any chances that Obama will follow through on any of these initiatives."

Russo goes onto explain:

"Yes, Darling-Hammond is an ed school professor who talks in nuanced, academic terms--not scripted talking points (see her debate here). Yes, she was among the first and most prominent critics of Teach For America--and still favors a more intensive, residency-based approach to training new teachers.

But she also has authored a recent study that acknowledged T.F.A. teachers were in some ways better than traditional teachers. And she has helped start several charter schools in California. Darling-Hammond says there's no real daylight between her positions and Obama's policy proposals, and I haven't seen any convincing evidence to contradict that claim.

So what's going on then? Part of it is just a knee-jerk response against someone who dared criticize T.F.A., the reformistas' most cherished accomplishment to date. Another part of it may be the desire for a younger, fresher name picked from their own ranks--D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee, or New Leaders founder Jon Schnur."

I have been trying to figure out the genesis of this movement among different education wonks that alternative programs are better than traditional teaching colleges. I know I am a somewhat of a novice when it comes to education policy, so will someone please explain this to me? Have I waisted the past 2 1/2 years in my college program? Would I have been better off to have gone into Teach For America? Somehow, I don't think so.

Reading about this continuing debate reminded me of an editorial I read a couple of years ago when I first started attending my program, and I wanted to learn more about education policy. It is a column from George Will entitled "Ed Schools vs Education" (my apologies for this being in Word Format. It was the only way I could look it up on the internet as it is no longer easily accessible from the Newsweek archives). He begins the article with the following:

"The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education."

Will believed this was because education schools are only focused on espousing progressive political beliefs, not teaching teachers how to teach. He does a good job at pointing out SOME extreme examples of teacher colleges where such activities take place. But he seems to have no problem branding ALL teacher's colleges as following this phenomena. While I can only really talk about my program, I think he is generalizing, to say the least.

By what Mr. Will and these "reformistas" appear to say, you would think that teachers all across the country are being taught to have the students sit in circles, give each other hugs, sing "Kum Bi Ya", and finger paint. True, things such as trying to promote change and fairness are themes that I have learned about in some of my classes (as if those are evil things to promote). But by and large, the overwhelming majority of what is taught in my classes are highly technical skills and techniques that are needed to teach in a variety of areas in the pubic schools (contrary to what some think, these do include the importance of discipline and accountability). We are taught how to be professional teachers, and we take it seriously. If you disagree, please speak up. I am ready to win that debate.

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