In education, a lot of research is brought to bear on subjects that have already been tackled while relatively little research breaks new ground. David Steiner's paper presented at the October 24-25, 2003 NCTQ/AEI/PPI conference falls into the second category. Steiner approached the problem of teacher quality by trying to confront the important but neglected question: What exactly is taught at schools of education?
In the first analysis of its kind, Steiner and co-author Susan Rozen reviewed the actual content of over 200 teacher-prep courses in 16 schools of education, drawn largely from those ranked in the top 30 by US News and World Report. Having analyzed syllabi in the instructional categories of foundations, reading methods, math methods, and teaching practicum, Steiner reports that the schools of education in the study are "neither preparing teachers adequately to use the concrete findings of the best research in education, nor are they providing their students with a thoughtful and academically rich background in the fundamentals of what it means to be an outstanding educator."
While the evidence about ideologically one-sided reading lists and the paucity of exposure to rigorous phonics instruction is troubling enough, what really stands out is the evidence that the practical side of student-teacher training is of very poor quality: only three out of 59 courses in teaching methods utilized audio or video recordings of students' practice teaching. Moreover, Schools of Education use adjunct appointees, and not regular faculty, to supervise and evaluate the students' teaching experience. Predictably, Steiner's work elicited strong negative reactions from defenders of schools of education, as reported in the latest issue of Education Week. Some complained that no one should take syllabi seriously while others thought his study was too limited in scope to have meaning. Despite all the nay-saying, however, we applaud Steiner for his willingness to be the first out of the gate to examine a source of the nation's teacher quality problem.