February 3, 2016

What We Get Backwards on Teacher Prep Policies

By Bellwether

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My colleagues Chad Aldeman and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel have written a great paper looking at the current state of teacher preparation and the failure of both input-based and outcomes-focused efforts to address the grave weaknesses in our current method of preparing teachers.
I deeply concur with Chad’s and Ashley’s overall diagnosis and find their proposals compelling, but one piece of the picture here could use further discussion. Ashley and Chad are largely right that we actually don’t know enough about what prospective teachers need to learn and know, or how to effectively impart key knowledge and skills to them, to support existing mandates. That said, we do know quite a bit more about effective practices for early language and literacy instruction in the early childhood and elementary grades, as well as effective practices for early childhood teaching, and we are developing something of a knowledge base around strategies that work for building teachers’ knowledge and skills to implement these practices in the classroom. Yet for all the requirements our teacher preparation policies currently impose on preparation programs and prospective teachers, they often don’t ensure that early childhood and elementary school teachers are building knowledge and skills in the things we know they need to know.
The sad irony is that, in the areas where we have the strongest evidence base about what teachers need to know and be able to do, we often impose the fewest requirements.
In K-12, we impose a lot of requirements on prospective teachers with very little evidence that they make a difference. Yet in early childhood, states often allow teachers to teach without a bachelor’s degree or much training in early childhood development or effective practices. In other words, we’ve got it backwards.
So here’s my modest proposal to add to Chad’s and Ashley’s: Why don’t we flip the equation and transfer a portion of the billions spent annually on teacher preparation (Ashley and Chad calculate some $4.85 billion annually) from K-12 preparation we don’t know works to instead supporting prospective early childhood teachers to develop the skills research shows they need. That doesn’t mean, as some advocates argue, pushing early childhood educators into a system that looks like the current K-12 preparation system–Ashley and Chad make a strong case against that. Rather it means we need to build new systems of early childhood educator preparation that reflect the research and evidence on quality early childhood teaching and what early childhood educators need to know, and also incorporate many of the principles Chad and Ashley outline to overall K-12 teacher prep. (I’d also argue that we should then expand that system to prepare teachers and leaders for the early elementary grades and as well–but that’s a topic for another blog post).

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