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Duncan's Teacher Ed Proposals Miss the Mark

A. Lin Goodwin

The rule-making for teacher preparation proposed by the federal government is a speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick approach to teacher education reform that seems to be increasingly characteristic of federal teacher education policy.  While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could be applauded for his attention to teacher preparation, these proposed regulations are troubling and pointed in the wrong direction.

Yes, there are certainly some real reasons to call for change in our nation's approach to teacher education; unfortunately, the proposed regulations for university-based teacher education programs offered by Secretary Duncan promise to make change happen (1) in the wrong way, (2) for the wrong reason, and (3) with the wrong results.

  1. Wrong way: The proposed regulations are not only punitive, but are based on a theory of action that is misguided: They exert government oversight on university-based teacher preparation--which typically falls under state jurisdiction--in ways that far exceed traditional boundaries of federal authority. This sets a dangerous precedent in a democracy.
  2. Wrong reason: This punitive approach to reform will surely result in deform instead of reform. Fear of "the big stick" typically results in compliance versus transformation. Paradoxically then, the proposed rules provide an incentive for narrowly defined, superficial change, certainly not real or meaningful change.
  3. Wrong results: The proposed rule-making will likely have unintended consequences. One obvious scenario to ensure a higher outcome will be for programs to dissuade graduates from accepting positions in high-need or challenging schools, many of which serve the most vulnerable students who often do not perform well on standardized tests.

Extensive research indicates that substantive reform requires participation across multiple constituents, collaborative problem-solving, top-down and bottom-up approaches, time, support, funding, and gradual implementation accompanied by ongoing assessment. Clearly, in this case, the proposed regulations ignore the evidence.

A. Lin Goodwin is the Evenden Foundation professor of education and vice dean at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a current vice president of the American Educational Research Association, or AERA.   

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