By Bruce Torff
You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. Certainly dinner is no better for it, and usually it’s a lot worse.
Would that this wisdom was better known by teacher education reformers. Their zeal to improve the quality of teacher preparation has produced, in many states, a crowded kitchen.
Take the state of New York, for example. The New York education department has long required teacher education programs to secure accreditation, in the past through NCATE or TEAC and currently through a confederation of these accreditors called CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation). At the same time, the New York education department has moved to adopt a teacher certification procedure known as EdTPA, which essentially shifts the task of ensuring that prospective teachers are qualified from universities to a corporation (Pearson, unsurprisingly).
The efficacy of CAEP and EdTPA is a topic much in dispute, but that is not my purpose here. I write to point out that neither CAEP nor EdTPA are curriculum neutral; that is, neither charges universities to specify their own objectives and document their effectiveness in meeting them (as with the whole university accreditation managed by such agencies as the Middle State Association). Rather, both CAEP and EdTPA present their own sets of objectives concerning the essential skills of teaching, and require teacher education programs to document how well they are meeting these “external” objectives.
But the CAEP and EdTPA objectives are not seamlessly aligned, as might be expected. (Put five educators in a room, and you get six opinions.) For example, EdTPA is unambiguously focused on differentiation of instruction for students with disabilities and students for whom English is a second language. CAEP mentions these students but its emphasis clearly lies elsewhere, in more general objectives that involve all students; for instance, prospective teachers should be able to “nurture the academic and social development of all students through professional dispositions such as caring, fairness, and the belief that all students can learn.”
Of course, these emphases are not mutually exclusive. But teacher education programs have limited resources in time and money, and they ought not be expected to be all things to all people at all times. At the moment, perplexed teacher educators are unsure which set of standards takes precedence, and they are spread dangerously thin in attempting to do it all.
Teacher education programs should be held accountable to a single set of standards. If they were, teacher educators would be well positioned to make whatever improvements are needed to bring their programs up to code.
But a single set of standards seems elusive at the moment, with both CAEP and EdTPA fully enforced by New York’s education department. The kitchen is jammed, and the meal is suffering for it. Overzealous teacher education reformers are now witlessly suppressing the very improvements they seek to promote.