Friends don't let friends turn themselves "upside-down" when they can barely stand upright

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Both the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and NCATE (education colleges' primary accreditor) have officially weighed in on NCTQ's recently released Student Teaching in the United States.  Both organizations want to put our conclusion that student teaching at most teacher preparation programs is fundamentally flawed behind them as soon as possible. Were we an enemy of high-quality traditional teacher preparation, we could understand, but is this any way to treat a friend?

The evidence is clear: on average, traditional teacher preparation as it is currently practiced does not make new teachers more effective. The real enemies of traditional schools of education know this fact all too well, have given up trying to reform them and instead support various work-arounds. But we consider ourselves a friend of teacher preparation, albeit a critical one. Real friends don't tell their friends that they can run a marathon when they're having a hard time walking up the stairs. Real friends actually help their friends think through what they need to change so that they can run that marathon.

And so it is with our review of student teaching. Late last year, NCATE issued a blue-ribbon report calling on teacher preparation to turn itself "upside-down." AACTE not only enthusiastically endorsed the report, it collaborated in producing it. And how will teacher preparation be revolutionized? By strongly focusing on "clinical practice" rather than education theory. Many of the details of this focus on clinical practice need to be worked out, but it seems clear that if schools of education heed NCATE's call, teacher candidates will be spending a lot more time in actual classrooms learning their craft. But this only begs the question: how well are education schools already managing the most important "clinical practice" component they already have in place, student teaching?

Here we are all in agreement. Our review paints a picture in graphic and institution-specific terms that shows that most teacher preparation programs don't have the fundamentals in place for strong student teaching experiences.  NCATE's blue ribbon report stated that clinical practice remains "the most ad hoc part of teacher education in many programs," with an "endemic unevenness in quality." But now, as if identifying a problem is tantamount to solving it, NCATE and AACTE both claim our report is "old news." AACTE goes so far as to claim that student teaching's "current professional standards, practices and reform efforts" have "progressed well beyond the minimal standards espoused by NCTQ." 

If schools of education are already "begging for placements" for their student teachers — in large part because, we argue, they are producing more than twice as many elementary teachers as districts need — then how can they possibly hope to significantly increase the amount of time teacher candidates spend in schools and still have it amount to something?

Julie Greenberg