Teacher Prep Needs to Lead – Not Follow

May 10, 2012 at 3:28 PM Leave a comment

Higher education must attract talented students and prepare them for careers in their chosen fields. However, an equally important aspect of their core mission must be the genesis of new ideas and leadership in innovation. I am all for quality assurance among educators, but the current dialogue around regulation of teacher prep is the stuff of lowered expectations. How can we insist on incentives to look backward when incubation of solutions for the future is what will drive their real value-added?

Recently, I spent some time at the DesignEd Symposium learning about collaboration among Boston-area design schools. It was fascinating to explore issues of creativity, innovation, and excellence with a group of educators, students, and industry leaders. The usual issues of cost, attrition, and performance after graduation – universal themes – arose in the conversations. However, the one big takeaway for me was the need for universities to drive the process of innovation, not just deliver graduates who are career-ready. This is an important component of the mission of higher education that seems to be under-appreciated in discussions about teacher prep and quality assurance.

The Department of Education has been developing guidelines for teacher prep programs that promote quality through accountability for the performance of their graduates on the job. I remain among the skeptics when it comes to holding institutions accountable for people over whom they no longer have any direct line of authority. Beyond that, we are working with the presumption that left unregulated, the teacher prep programs will deliver substandard graduates…more lowered expectations. As if this were not enough, we add insult to injury with proposals that would leave them hamstrung by the process of constantly assessing past trainees rather than investing their resources in the future of teacher leadership.

Absent regulation, schools of education and their school district partners have long histories of collaborations. Pre-practicum experiences and student teaching allow candidates to develop relationships with future employers who will observe their performances first hand. New teacher portfolios, references, and classroom auditions offer insight for employers. There is ample opportunity for communication and feedback between teacher prep programs and school systems who hire their graduates. Neither party wants new teachers to fail. Further, creative tension between current performance and future innovations is a good thing. A visionary teacher prep program needs to be improving constantly, not waiting for instructions from their clients.

Budget limitations have created zero-sum games for most players in education. In the short-run, there will be a real loss in innovation in direct proportion to the size of the burden of teacher prep regulations. However, the long-term impact of failure to drive the industry forward will far outweigh any short-term reduction in uncertainty about the quality of new hires.

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Entry filed under: Teacher Prep.

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