Student Teaching in the United States

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A big topic deserves a big report, and we hope we've done justice to the importance of student teaching with our newly unveiled Student Teaching in the United States, its hefty appendix and a meaty collection of resource materials (some from institutions we examined, some our own) that comprise key ingredients in a strong student teaching program.  The report previews an important element of our national review of education schools and raises questions about how well teacher preparation programs can implement initiatives now on the table to increase clinical practice on many fronts.   

Posts here in the coming days will cover the full range of our findings and recommendations as well as diverse perspectives from guest bloggers.  For now I want to take a birds-eye view of this massive endeavor of student teaching and describe one of the report's big take-aways. 

To begin, we acknowledge that arranging student teaching placements is no easy task and that school districts hold a lot of the cards in negotiations. As one dean put it, "we're all having a dog of a time finding placement sites." Still, it's shocking that only 10 of the 134 programs we evaluated (7 percent) take the two most important steps to establish the foundation for a strong student teaching placement: ensuring that the cooperating teachers in whose classrooms student teachers are placed are fully qualified (experienced, effective instructors who are capable of mentoring an adult) by explicitly advertising those qualifications, and by actively participating in the selection process. We applaud those 10 programs — in fact our report gives them all a strong shout-out — but the evidence points to an inadequate placement process in the majority of programs.  It's safe to presume that many teacher candidates are not placed with the exceptional classroom teacher who can help them become effective novice teachers.  This bottom line from our review's detailed examination of thousands of documents from institutions and hundreds of principal interviews was borne out by our recent surveys of Los Angeles and Miami teachers on their student teaching experiences.    

Teacher preparation programs feel powerless to improve the cooperating teacher screening process because they are always scrambling to find a sufficient number of placements. However, each year we produce more than twice as many elementary teachers as get hired fresh out of preparation. As our report describes in detail, if we focused on producing a smaller cohort of more qualified teacher candidates, we could kill quite a few birds with one stone — not the least of which would be having a lot less trouble placing them with the best cooperating teachers. 

For recommendations on how to "shrink the pipeline" of prospective elementary teachers from the beginning of preparation through student teaching to get fewer — but stronger— candidates, as well as many more recommendations to improve all aspects of student teaching, check out the report.

More to come!

Kate Walsh