Teacher Education in America: Reform Agendas for the Twenty-First Century
reviewed by Timothy J. McMannon - 1998
Title: Teacher Education in America: Reform Agendas for the Twenty-First Century
Author(s): Christopher J. Lucas
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, New York
ISBN: , Pages: 352, Year: 1999
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Whenever American schools appear to be failing to perform their duties of educating and enculturating the young, critics almost invariably point to teachers and their preparation as the source of the failure. Bad teaching makes bad schools, goes the argument, and improper or insufficient pre-service teacher training makes for bad teaching. To improve schools, improve teacher education. Such was the logic behind the creation of the first normal schools in the late 1830s, and such is the logic behind many current reform proposals.
The problem, as Christopher Lucas reminds us in Teacher Education in America: Reform Agendas for the Twenty-First Century, is that reformers rarely agree on just what it means to improve teacher education, There are perhaps as many different reform proposals as there are reformers and, as Lucas notes, in the absence of any single controlling paradigm or some uniform model commanding universal assent, anyone is free to recommend ideas for possible consideration (p. 253).
Before offering his own proposals for teacher education, Lucas traces the history of the field and provides an overview of current issues and initiatives. Historically, he observe-s, teacher education has suffered from the perception that it lacks reliable, universally recognized scientific underpinnings and that there is little or no correlation between performance in a teacher preparation program and effective teaching in the classroom. Critics have therefore pronounced teacher education academically dubious at best and socially dangerous at worst. Although Lucas does make occasional references to recent positive developments in teacher educationthat program admission standards are being raised, that the academic quality of education students is improving, and that research is, in fact, influencing teaching practices for the better (pp. 105-106, 123-124)he paints a generally pessimistic portrait. He seems to take particular pleasure in quoting those who have ridiculed teacher education, including Arthur Bestor, James Koerner, Richard Mitchell, and Rita Kramer (pp. 69-77, 87-88, 219).1
Likely to be the most controversial part of this book is the concluding chapter, in which Lucas outlines his plan for higher education and teacher preparation programs. He calls, first, for professional and vocational education to be removed entirely from the undergraduate curriculum, enabling every college and university student to secure a genuine liberal education. Traditional departments and disciplines would be eliminated in favor of five different clusters or divisions such as Physical and Quantitative Sciences and Technologies (which would include physics, mathematics, statistics, and computer science) and Arts and Letters (comprised of English, literature, linguistics, philosophy, languages, and speech, among others). The first two and a half years (or five semesters) of undergraduate work would be devoted to general studies, and, after passing comprehensive examinations in the middle of the third year of study, a student would choose an area of concentration. Under Lucass design, teacher education would be an entirely postbaccalaureatebut not graduate-levelprogram. Preparation for initial certification would consist of a semester-long, intensive period of course work and field experiences followed by a six- to twelvemonth internship. In-service, continuing education for teachers is assumed under this plan, but it is not discussed in detail.
As Lucas notes, the plan probably offers something to offend or trouble almost everyone (p. 286). Some would criticize its brevity, he admits, others that it postpones professional training until four years of study have been completed. Those who seek recognition of teaching as a full-fledged profession would oppose the Lucas design because it implies that teacher education is simply a craft apprenticeship. Education faculty and national accrediting organizations would fight it because it undermines their influence. And although arts and sciences faculties would probably embrace Lucass goal of revitalizing undergraduate liberal studies, they would almost certainly resist the toppling of disciplinary walls and the complete revamping of the undergraduate curriculum. Although Lucas himself does not say as much, one is inclined to believe that the main supporters of this plan would be those political leaders and future teachers who are willing to accept short, cheap, and merely adequate teacher education.
While no one would argue that teacher education as it now stands is perfect, Lucass cure seems worse than the disease. A sixteen-week program in which students are expected to grapple with structure, governance, and organization; legal and ethical aspects of teaching and public schooling; education in its social bearings; human development, curricula, and learning; learner exceptionality; testing, measurement, and evaluation; and instructional media (pp. 278-284) and complete a student-teaching assignment seems to leave little time for meaningful reading or reflection.
As a historical study and survey of the present teacher education landscape, Teacher Education in America is a useful and informativeif often gloomysynthesis. As a blueprint for future teacher preparation programs, however, it is unlikely to solve the problems it identifies.