Teacher-training programs need to be revamped to focus more on hands-on, clinical instruction, similar to how doctors are trained, a panel of education experts recommend in a report released on Tuesday by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
The report, created over the last 10 months by a panel that included teachers, educators of teachers, state-government administrators, and union representatives, calls for sweeping changes in teacher-training programs that would affect almost all aspects of teacher education, including accreditors, education schools, and individual teachers.
It finds the current model of teaching, which relies heavily on classroom instruction and course work, inadequate. It outlines a new system of teacher training and education-school accreditation that borrows from the approach taken by medical schools, including their emphasis on hands-on training.
"We have a model from medicine, and we ought to use it," said Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York and one of the panel's co-chairmen. Ms. Zimpher, who spoke here at a presentation of the report, is a strong proponent of the clinical-instruction model, calling for it to be adopted throughout the SUNY system.
A Shift to Practical Training
The report calls for a fundamental redesign of education schools that would integrate extensive hands-on preparation with the theory and content currently taught in education schools. That structure would bring in and reward experienced teachers to serve as mentors and clinical instructors for aspiring teachers. Coupled with that redesign would be more-rigorous accountability measures for education schools; better recruitment of potential teachers based on academic performance and the attributes that make good teachers; better placement based on school districts' needs; strengthened partnerships among teacher-training programs, local governments, and school districts; and the accumulation of better knowledge about which programs work.
The major change proposed in the report would shift teacher instruction away from lectures and toward more-practical training, in which aspiring teachers would be expected to perform in front of a classroom from the day they walked into the program.
Most aspiring teachers already are placed in student-teaching positions for 10 to 12 weeks toward the end of their education. But the panel's recommendations call for a more immersive environment in which future teachers would spend significant time in front of a classroom throughout their training and receive more feedback from experienced educators.
That type of change would require partnerships with local school districts to provide the classroom environment as well as experienced teachers to help train the student-teachers and provide feedback. It would also require better tracking of student and teacher performance on a variety of measures, the report says. That would help instructors and researchers better establish what works and what doesn't.
Eight states have already signed letters stating that they intend to add a clinical element to their teacher-training programs.
Some universities already have such elements in place, but they are not widely used.
"There's great potential in this report to increase what we know about what works," said Donna Wiseman, dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland at College Park and one of the panel members.
Teacher-preparation programs have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as reports have shown that the biggest in-school determinant of student achievement in elementary and secondary education is teacher quality.
The report also calls for raising admissions, performance, and graduation standards for aspiring teachers. Critics of teacher-training programs often cite studies showing that students who enter such programs often have lower grades and standardized-test scores than students who head for other professions.
Teacher and education-school quality and accountability are likely to be the subject of policy debates when Congress takes up legislation to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is expected to be considered next year.
The U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who spoke at the panel's presentation, said the report made him optimistic about the changes under way in teacher-training programs. But he recognized that it will take resources and partnerships to make changes and that local, state, and federal governments must play a role in improving teacher-certification standards.
"This transformation cannot be accomplished by reforming teacher-preparation programs alone," he said.
The panel received criticism from some policy analysts, including Rick M. Hess, director of education-policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based policy group. Mr. Hess said a flaw in the report was its "one-best-model" view of teacher training. He said that there might be different models of instruction that work equally well for different people. He suggested differentiating training programs based on teaching styles, subjects, or population served, similar to how medical students train in various specialties.
He also said the report fails to consider fiscal realities and what would have to be eliminated to make the proposed changes possible. It also does not delve deeply into how technology is changing the educational process, he said.
James G. Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, said it would work over the next two years to overhaul its accreditation standards, to bring them in line with the report's recommendations.
A longtime criticism of the accreditation system, Mr. Cibulka said, is that standards are set too low and underperforming schools are allowed to slide by. He said he hoped this report and the ensuing changes would remedy that pattern.
"We must raise the bar," he said, "for new teachers and the programs that prepare them."