No one suggests we let people practice medicine just for taking the medical board test. And no one suggests you can be a lawyer if you have been a policeman for five years. So why do folks have so little respect for teaching and allow these end runs for teacher licensure? Most evidence for the decline in respect for teacher professionalism points to the utter failures of our Schools of Education.
Education lacks a central body of knowledge that is productive and can be built upon. We call this a “paradigm.” The paradigm of medicine is anatomy and physiology. Understanding how the body works is the basis for practicing medicine. That knowledge grows at the edges but the core knowledge does not flip-flop, change dramatically, or start over.
Unfortunately, education has no paradigm. We see that in education fads that change every three to five years. Behavioral objectives and diagnostic teaching were followed by open classrooms and phase electives that caused a backlash to back-to-basics, followed by Madeline Hunter 7-step lessons and eventually QPA (Quality Performance Accreditation), an idea stolen from Total Quality Management in Business Schools. When standardizing educational objectives at the local level did not improve education, uniform state standards were declared the solution. Failure of standardization at the local and state levels became the reason to extend standardization to the national level.
It is important not to confuse the current tools-of-the-trade for a paradigm. How to use a scalpel in surgery is not part of the paradigm of medicine; it is merely a tool of the day—an important tool—but not the paradigm. That is the case of tests and measurements, an important skill for teachers, but not a paradigm. It is important for teachers to learn the mathematical significance and limitations of test scores. Unfortunately, Schools of Education not only lack any paradigm but also minimized or eliminated courses on “tests and measurements” for their student teachers.
This directly resulted in this generation of teachers, administrators and decision makers who are unaware of the limitations of testing. As a result, assessment has become the definition of educational achievement. Few realize that an evaluation is not an education. If Education Schools had continued to teach the limitations of testing, perhaps today’s test-obsession would have been avoided.
Some educationists still agree with Vanderbilt Chancellor William H. Payne who stated in 1887 that psychology “stands in the same relation to teaching that anatomy does to medicine.” And his claim that psychology is the paradigm for teaching lives on today in “brain-based learning” scams.
But it was Harvard’s psychologist William James who countered with “You make a great, a very great mistake, if you think that psychology, being the science of the mind’s laws, is something from which you can deduce definite programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use.... Psychology is a science and teaching is an art.”
If teaching has a paradigm, it is communication. Every teacher must be a competent communicator of knowledge. And communication is a complex art that depends on perception, personality, and mastery of content. Some student teachers bring these skills to college. Others do not, and training can rarely give them those complex abilities or change personalities.
Skipping from education fad to fad, education schools also failed in “gate keeping.” Everyone seems to remember a bad teacher and this provided the rationale for removing tenure which in turn now makes it difficult to recruit good students into teaching.
And teachers with masters degrees in education fads do not improve student outcomes. But teachers with masters degrees in science or math do raise their student scores and send them into STEM fields.
No other time period in modern history has been as depressing for classroom teachers as the No Child Left Behind era that began under the last President Bush and continues today. A record number of veteran teachers are either telling me how glad they were to get out, or how they want to retire early.
But for the sake of our children, we can’t give up. But it is time to give up on the School of Education model and move teacher training into the content departments. Paradigms matter.