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Teacher Ed. Group Calls for More High-Quality Student Teaching

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Preservice teachers should be continuously working with students in classrooms as they train to become teachers, a teachers' colleges group says.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education's Clinical Practice Commission released a report today with 10 proclamations on how to better incorporate evidence-based clinical practice in teacher preparation programs. 

The work follows the 2010 release of a report by a panel convened by the National Council for Accredition of Teacher Education (NCATE), a group that has since merged with another body to become the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The 2010 report called for a major restructuring of teacher preparation, saying that student-teaching and other "clinical" experiences in schools must be prioritized, and that coursework should supplement the on-the-job work. 

Since then, while clinical experience has become rooted in teacher-prep programs, the work has been haphazard. In 2015, the AACTE, which is the main membership group for teachers' colleges, formed a commission to examine the foundational research from the field to define what's needed for effective clincial preparation. 

This subsequent report attempts to establish a professional lexicon and model protocols of what clinical practice should look like in teacher-prep programs. This way, the report says, "the field can respond in a united way to this call to action."

"We change our terminology often without input from school-based folks, and often in a borderline nonsensical way," said Kristien Zenkov, a professor of education at George Mason University and a commission member, who spoke on a panel in Washington today to mark the report's release.

He added that research showed there was as many as 19 terms used to identify the same role in teacher-preparation programs—sometimes multiple terms are used at the same institution. "That's a troubling reality," he said.

Making Clinical Practice More Effective

The report calls for teacher-prep coursework to support teacher candidates as they progress through student-teaching—i.e., the classes should become more complex as the students clock more hours in schools. Pedagogical training should be at the center of the coursework, the report says.

The report also praises clinical partnerships, like teacher residency programs, in which universities partner with local school districts to let teacher candidates student-teach for a full school year (those teachers are paid).

And teacher candidates should be active collaborators within their programs, the commission concluded. Teacher candidates should feel empowered to take active roles as co-teachers in the classroom, so they are ready for the profession upon graduation. This means teacher educators meet with preservice teachers regularly to assess their readiness, the report said.

That has to be done under a healthy partnership between the school or district and the university, the report said—all stakeholders should be communicating clearly and regularly.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, which was not involved in this report, said the inclusion of school districts in this work is critical. She has said before that districts should be choosier about who they let come in to student teach, in order to improve the teacher pipeline.

"Districts have a lot of leverage here to do some of the things that might be harder for institutions to drive," she said in a phone interview. "As it stands now, most districts just take student teachers on, no questions asked, they don't make sure the mentor teacher is suitable for that responsibility—there's a lot that's going on here. But districts have a lot of ability to alter what is now a pretty broken system, and with the cooperation and interest on the part of the institutions that this report seems to imply, we could have a very powerful driver to improving teacher quality in this country." 

'All Hands on Deck'

NCTQ has clashed with AACTE in the past. When NCTQ released a report in 2011 saying that schools of education are not properly ensuring the supervision of student teachers or the selection of effective mentor teachers, the AACTE shot back that the report "misses the mark." The AACTE also urged its members to boycott participation in the NCTQ's controversial review of schools of education, which found that the majority don't adequately prepare educators.

But now, NCTQ's Walsh said AACTE's renewed call to focus on student teaching echoes the conclusions of her group's work over the years.

"Student teaching is our best opportunity for driving good teaching," Walsh said. "When it comes to providing high-quality student teaching experiences, we need all hands on deck. To me, this report is a strong signal that the field of teacher education recognizes that need. Hopefully, schools can be persuaded as well of its importance and also, simply how it would benefit them if they attach higher standards to that experience."

Zenkov said he knew some might still criticize this work as standardizing teacher preparation.

"A lot of us would say standardization just involves having standards," he said. "That's what we're after."

The panelists, most of whom are part of the Clinical Practice Commission, said they hoped this work would "boldly [move] the teacher preparation field forward" by making the foundation of clinical practice accessible, clear, and useful. 

"What I so appreciate about this work is we are really taking back and claiming that we are experts in our field," said Jennifer Roth, an assistant principal at Fort Collins High School in Colorado and a commission member, on the panel. "This is what teacher preparation should look like to benefit all stakeholders." 

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