Perhaps you can help me solve a puzzle.
This literature review from a group of researchers in the Netherlands attempts to surface the professional knowledge that teacher educators need to know. It combs through 15 years of articles to conclude that "[o]nly a limited number of studies are explicit about the knowledge teacher educators should possess, which might indicate a lack of a clear knowledge base essential for teacher educators' work."
Of the 1,701 articles screened by the researchers, only 103 even deal with the content teacher educators (the people who train teacher candidates) should know. A few of the rest examined these educators' processes for learning, but most were deemed irrelevant.
And now for my puzzle. If the researchers had been trying to surface the content teacher candidates, not teacher educators, should know, they would have uncovered a wealth of material, many of them supplied to us courtesy of the Institute for Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Here's a sample:
- The evidence-based instructional strategies that will be most effective in helping all students in all subjects learn and retain what they learn (for more on this, see Different language, same problems and this TEDx talk released last week from Ulrich Boser);
- The topics relevant to teaching elementary mathematics;
- The five instructional components necessary to ensure children will learn how to read (listen to Emily Hanford's new APM documentary Hard Words for an in-depth discussion on this subject);
- The five most effective techniques in managing a classroom; and,
- The fallacy of 'learning styles.'
My question is, isn't knowing these things just as relevant for the teacher educator as for the teacher candidate? That is, at a minimum, shouldn't the professional content knowledge of teacher educators include what the teacher candidates in their charge should know?
You may be thinking: why do I need a literature review to tell me that teacher educators should know what teacher candidates should learn? That's utterly obvious, like doing a search in the literature for "how do things fall."
But it isn't obvious. Since 2013, our Teacher Prep Review has demonstrated this lack of a knowledge base by the absence of evidence-based design in reading and mathematics courses all created by teacher educators; the lack of clear content knowledge expectations for elementary and secondary science and social studies teacher candidates; the inconsistent feedback on classroom management provided to candidates by teacher educators; and, the inexplicable variation in content and expectations between undergraduate and graduate certification programs on the same campus.
So that lit review on "how things fall" would include some articles that do not mention things falling down at all or that, in fact, argue that things fall up!
Still not convinced? Read this.
Or I can summarize it for you. Researchers from Texas A&M University, Binghamton University, and the University of Florida gave a survey on basic language constructs that underpin reading instruction (phonology, phonics, and morphology) to teacher educators and "showed that teacher educators do not possess a good understanding of basic language constructs… [and that this] may be at least one reason for poor [classroom] teacher understanding."
To put that another way: teacher educators did not know the reading content knowledge they should teach to future teachers!
The clear first step is simply to expect teacher educators to have mastered what we want teacher candidates to know. How about starting with and expanding on the list above?
If we can agree to that, if we can start at the beginning, we can then move onto tougher problems: What is the best way to teach those strategies, topics, and techniques to future teachers? How should they practice them? How do we coach teacher candidates to become experts in them? What happens if they struggle or don't master one or more?
And then we'll have the start of a professional knowledge base.
 I've elided the significant disagreement about the importance of basic constructs like phonics, mostly because rational people should not disagree over the fundamentals of science. That is, I'm tired of the Reading Wars: things fall down, not up.