Powerful Teacher Education
by Merri Rosenberg
Powerful Teacher Education:
Lessons From Exemplary Programs
by Linda Darling-Hammond
Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint. San Francisco, 2006 (419 pp)
Few professional educators would disagree with the idea that the educational landscape has changed significantly during the past few years. Even fewer would quarrel with the premise of this important, cogently argued and thoroughly documented book from internationally renowned educator, Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, and widely published author and sought-after speaker. She asserts that – contrary to conventional wisdom – “if the nation’s classrooms are to be filled with teachers who can teach ambitious skills to all learners, the solution must lie in large part with strong, universal teacher education.”
The political-educational reforms of the past decade, including the relentless array of tests, unfunded mandates handed down by government agencies and, of course, the impact of No Child Left Behind have focused national attention on this issue of teacher qualifications and training. Too often, this means that the students who are most vulnerable, and most at risk for failure, are taught by the least-experienced and poorly trained teachers. Even as many critics urge fast-track alternative certification programs, simply to produce more “certified” teachers to place in front of our public school children—and even more scoff or disdain the notion that teacher training does anything useful—Darling-Hammond is resolute in her conviction that “there is substantial and growing evidence matters for teacher effectiveness.”
As Darling-Hammond, who began her career as a public school classroom teacher more than 30 years ago, writes, “Teachers must be able to succeed with a wider range of learners than they were expected to teach when school success was not essential for employment and participation in society... To meet these demands, virtually every state has enacted more ambitious standards for learning tied to new curriculum expectations and assessments.”
What she, and her colleagues who researched the programs profiled here, offer is a lucid, compelling and persuasive portrait of seven programs that represent true examples of “best practices” for successful teacher training. These seven – Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Bank Street College in New York City; Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas; The University of California at Berkeley; the University of Southern Maine; the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and Wheelock College in Boston – provide specific courses, experiences, and assessments that debunk the myth that “good teachers are born, not made.”
Not all of them follow the same model (some are undergraduate programs, some graduate, one is an internship model, still others are designed for mid-career recruits to the profession), but they share “an approach that prepares teachers to practice in ways that we describe as both learning-centered (that is, supportive of focused, in-depth learning that results in powerful thinking and proficient performance on the part of students) and learner-centered (responsive to individual students’ experiences, interests, talents, needs and cultural backgrounds).”
Some of the requirements seem obvious to practitioners: Bank Street’s focus on its students learning how to carefully observe and record students’ progress and skills acquisition, or Alverno’s expectation that its teachers-in-training do continuous exhibitions of performance. Other components of successful teacher training models include a well structured and supervised student teachisng experience, like Bank Street’s School for Children, where its graduate students can work with children directly, compared to programs where student teachers do little more than clerical work.
Remedies like more competitive salaries, or opportunities for on-going professional development, are also suggested by Darling-Hammond as a way to improve the quality of teachers for all students. Based on the thorough research and analysis presented here, a failure to produce qualified, professional teachers isn’t for lack of knowledge or insight, as these exemplary programs demonstrate.
The models are there. It’s up to policy makers to implement these changes that are vital to the nation’s children – and to us.#