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Moving Teacher Education Forward
|Posted By: Joshua Barnett on March 23, 2011|
|We appreciate the discussion surrounding this commentary, as we believe it is serving its purpose in driving a conversation about the utility of rankings that do not consider contextual factors, about the utility of research within colleges of education, and about a necessary transition within the discipline of education research towards greater (yet contextualized) transparency. |
In response to the issues raised by Mr. Schutz:
Admittedly, we limited the exposition of the statewide initiative in deference for providing greater discussion to the three key challenges, which we believe to be of utmost importance in advancing the field of teacher education. For more information about the project, please visit http://education.asu.edu/projects/t-prep , where the full program description across each year of development is provided in detail. The "three ground-rules" were not agreed upon before conducting the evaluation, rather these three challenges emerged from conducting the evaluation. We believe this is an important distinction to make, as noted throughout the article, we provide multiple perspectives for each challenge and then note the choice made by our stakeholder group and the rationale for the decision. These choices were made and re-affirmed through continual conversation and communication across the five colleges of education.
With regard to the assessing of our graduates’ impact, we concur that this action is a major undertaking and contribution. This commentary is our second article informing the field about the experience to undertake this endeavor (see Amrein-Beardsley, A. & Barnett, J. H. (2010, December). The sinking state of public colleges of education: Lessons learned without lifeboats. Action in Teacher Education, 32(4). doi: 10.1080/01626620.2010.549700) with additional work under review presently. We do not take lightly the role of accountability and are constantly embroiled within discussions about balancing transparency with evaluation, situated within the three challenges we described within this commentary.
We understand the skepticism, and we appreciate it. We believe, however, that the presence of this commentary and the conversation surrounding it is reason to feel better about teacher education - in essence, we believe it is time for those within colleges of education to recognize that accountability is here, and rather than reject the notion, we should begin seriously talking about how we're improving our practice and systematically improving the education of students. We believe identifying and addressing the three challenges as presented move us in that direction.
In response to Mr. Torres:
We concur that contextual factors need to be included within any ranking system. Further, we contend that the (over)reliance within the current accountability community on monolithic indicators, which are often devoid of understanding the complexities and various missions of SOE/COE, is mendacious. Additionally, as researchers, we posit more work should be done to advance the field to move beyond "black box" evaluations and provide informative, formative feedback to users rather than summary notes that do little to improve education holistically for the students, teachers, and communities we serve.
In response to the questions about the additional challenges raised by Mr. Crowe:
We concur that additional challenges do exist, and we, based on our own experiences and numerous conversations with others across the country, understand that there is no smoking gun to solving the outsiders’ disparaging views of the education community. Notwithstanding, we believe the time has come to move beyond discussing "if" we should be evaluated and moving towards proposing a better system of "how" we should be evaluated.
We believe the capacity of teacher education faculty to design and conduct rigorous quantitative research is possibly there, albeit this statement begs the question of the utility of such research (consider the TN STAR project's influence on the class size debate, which continues in spite of a rigorously designed, large-scale study). Notwithstanding, we contend that colleges of education generally have ed psych departments or evaluation/measurement folks who could help create such rigorous designs (or maybe even research centers to assist) as well as highly skilled qualitative researchers, but perhaps the bigger challenges is conducting such work in practice - in school sites and districts. The dearth of such highly rigorous designs are what we believe leads to the lack of credibility discussed in the final point of this post regarding the sinking view from the external community, a point we return to later.
In terms of the willingness of teacher education faculty to use findings from these kinds of studies to make fundamental changes where they are called for, that is definitely happening internally. That's the best part about the project we describe at our own university. We also believe that through our (yours and other colleagues across the country) work, we are moving the field towards an acceptance and conversation about not only that we are being held accountable, but that what such accountability should realistically resemble.
As such, we concur the days of keeping negative things quiet is also over now, perhaps most notably as alternative tracks to teaching and administration are increasingly offered, and now students across the country can enroll in a variety of online programs. Related, we are advocates for transparency, but we also want to avoid over quantifying or ranking colleges, schools, or teachers based on attributes or characteristics that ultimately damage the entire field; therefore, the role of transparency should be well considered, with an eye towards formative assessments and allowing our "warts" to be remedied rather than causing a panic across the field and entrenching those against accountability.
By contrast, consider the approach in Houston or, for example, the LATimes approach to accountability research, where oversimplified results riddled with internal threats to validity and reliability issues, were published and led to more - not fewer - problems. Such accountability and transparency does little to advance us or the field. To be clear, we need to be more aware of the limitations of the accountability systems in place, as with any research project, and avoid penalizing those willing to step out and test the systems, which inform us as a research community - all of whom, we believe, are advocating for improving the educational system.
As we continue to think about the impact, limitations, and expectations within colleges of education, we are agreed that the role of preparation is to have influence within the schoolhouse and on students. Notwithstanding, we're uncertain if those influences are limited to test score improvements, which is the current potential over-reliance of our accountability structure. To continue to utilize such a system that we know is flawed is, at least in our estimation, a poor use of transparency, reckless, and moving the field in the wrong direction - away from rather than towards - improving education holistically.
We appreciate the comments from each of our colleagues, and we believe that this commentary and others similar to it do much to advance the educational research community towards a system of accountability that reflects the complexity of the profession.