Rethinking Teacher Education in the 21st Century

Daniel Fallon & James W Fraser. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.

In most higher education institutions today, teacher education remains uncomfortably situated. It is too often an embarrassing subject of academic discourse, reflecting unresolved dilemmas about its intellectual stature. Although colleges of education have obtained a foothold in higher education in the 20th century, they have often done so at the expense of teacher education, treating it as an awkward cousin and, usually, relegating it the lowest priority in their mission. We assert that this marginalization of teacher education, ironically, is the act that is most responsible for the low stature of colleges of education within the academy.

We argue here that the dominant strategy by which colleges of education sought to locate themselves in higher education, however appealing it might have seemed to its leaders at the beginning, misjudged the essential aim of the enterprise and thus led in the end to chronic weakness. To now make teacher education the centerpiece of academic interest will seem shocking to some. It is our contention that just such a bold reorientation will not only strengthen colleges of education, but will also be met with warmth and enthusiasm by the leaders of academic institutions today. In a knowledge-based economy, teacher education’s moment has arrived.

The New Century in Context

As the 19th century drew to a close, the thoughts of teacher education reformers and the institutions that they created are surprisingly illustrative of some of the most significant issues facing efforts to rethink teacher education today. Their stories are illustrative of the underlying tensions that have shaped efforts to rethink the field for well over a century.

In 1885, Nicholas Murray Butler was a young newly minted PhD. Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at what was still Columbia College when Columbia’s president, Frederick A. P. Barnard, called on him to assist in what Barnard saw as one of his prime goals since he had become president two decades earlier, establishing a chair or department in “the principles and arts of education.” Throughout Barnard’s long tenure, Columbia’s trustees continued to turn down the president at least in part because they feared that any serious attention to teacher education would bring women into the college. Convinced of the value of teacher education, Barnard finally decided to try a different approach.

With Butler as his agent, Barnard decided to “build up teacher’s college outside the University, and to bring it later into organic relations with the University” (Cremin, Shannon, & Townsend, 1954, pp. 10-17). In this effort the coconspirators were more successful. While maintaining his position as a philosophy professor within Columbia, Butler gave highly popular lectures for New York City teachers and thus was offered the presidency of the Industrial Education Association in New York, a successor organization to the Kitchen Garden Association, which had been organized in 1878 to teach useful skills such as sewing, cooking, and carpentry to immigrant children. The association increasingly concerned itself with effective teaching, which made possible the focus that Butler provided when he became president. Butler renamed the association the New York College for the Training of Teachers in 1889 and received a state charter that gave it standing to confer bachelor, master, and doctor of pedagogy degrees, an authority that Columbia’s trustees would never have given to a School of Education of their own.

Butler led the new college until 1891 when he became chair of the Philosophy Department at Columbia. The professional school that he and Barnard had created, and as planned brought into relationship with Columbia, was renamed Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1892. In a disappointing but familiar pattern, however, Butler’s immediate successors, Walter L. Hervey and more especially James Earl Russell, were less enamored with the focus on teaching. Instead, they set about to build a college that would engage in areas they considered more appropriate to a university. Cremin, Shannon, and Townsend (1954, p. 81) quote Russell’s satisfied declaration in 1935 that henceforth all students at Teachers College would be “experienced teachers, administrators, and supervisors.” The education of new teachers had apparently disappeared from the mission of Teachers College.

For the first half of the 20th century Teachers College was arguably the most prestigious beacon of new ideas for all of the nation’s schools of education. With its central position, Teachers College also prepared a very substantial share of the faculty for other education schools in the United States. Nonetheless, fear of the loss of prestige that might be associated with a program of teacher education, to say nothing of the women students who might want to be prepared in such a program, meant that Teachers College was destined to remain independent, even though closely associated with Columbia. Teachers College might have been the most prestigious education school in the nation, but its reconfigured mission did not attain sufficient stature to be included as fully a part of Columbia University. Butler himself served as Columbia’s president during most of the first half of the 20th century, the glory years of Teachers College, but he never consented to legitimate the mission it established for itself by proposing its full inclusion among the university’s professional schools.

Not every university held teacher education at quite the arm’s length that Columbia did, but the attitude of Columbia’s trustees and faculty is symbolic of 100 other stories even if the details and institutional arrangements are different. For example, Herbst (1989, pp. 176-177) recounts the poignant story of Charles W Eliot, president of Harvard University, during the decade in which he chaired the National Education Association’s Committee of Ten and persuaded Harvard’s faculty to experiment with the introduction of “a possible normal course of one year.” No sooner had he appointed Paul Henry Hanus to lead this experiment than the tension between Hanus’s advocacy of “education” and Eliot’s insistence on “teaching” became apparent, continuing for almost 20 years. When Hanus finally secured independence from the Department of Philosophy, where he had been quartered, he pleaded once again for the title Professor of Education. Eliot’s response was a curt letter announcing his appointment to a professorship “in the History and Art of Teaching.”

By 1892, there were 31 universities that had at least one full-time professor of pedagogy. Although university leaders from Iowa to Michigan often championed teacher education and the study of teaching, faculty in education schools for the most part had other priorities, just as at Columbia and Harvard. For example, the University of Michigan faculty made it clear that the purpose of its new chair was “to fit university students for the higher positions in the public-school system, to promote the study of education science, … [and to bring] the secondary schools into close relations with the university” (Frazier et al., 1933, pp. 35-37). In other words, the university faculty at Michigan wanted to prepare school superintendents and scholars who would do research and study education, and they wanted to help shape the curriculum of the high schools and even perhaps educate some high school teachers. But the preparation of the great body of teachers, especially elementary teachers, would be someone else’s job. A university aspiring to greatness did not need to assume such mundane work.

In 1868, just as President Barnard was starting what would turn out to be his long campaign to open a teacher education program associated with Columbia, New York City’s Board of Commissioners for the Schools decided that New York City teachers needed better education than the informal Saturday schools that were then the only professional programs for them. They launched a new Female Normal and High School that opened in 1871. The commissioners also said that once their school was in operation, only its graduates should be licensed to teach in New York City.

Although the school quickly changed its name to the Normal College of the City of New York in order to give the women’s school parity with the then all-male City College of New York, everyone knew that the female school was really a high school, or, as its first principal, Thomas Hunter, said, the college name was “a misnomer … but it was something to work towards” (Fraser, 2007, p. 157). Hunter, in his long tenure, led the school in that direction, so that by 1888, just as Columbia’s Teachers College was being formed, New York City’s Normal College offered a curriculum leading to a BA degree and a license to teach schools in New York City. By the turn of the 20th century, at a time when a substantial majority of the nation’s elementary school teachers were not much more than high school graduates themselves, if that, New York expected its teachers to have a college degree.

Not all New Yorkers agreed with Hunter’s commitment to high academic standards. When old New York and the previously independent City of Brooklyn merged to create the modern New York City in 1898, the first superintendent of the combined school district, William Henry Maxwell, attacked the Normal College and its principal. Maxwell believed that Hunter and the Normal faculty were preparing teachers who were far too independent to follow the directives Maxwell was giving the schools. Maxwell favored Brooklyn’s 2-year training schools, which were under the direct control of the superintendent. After 1898, he introduced these tightly controlled schools in Manhattan. In Maxwell’s view of the world, one shared by most “administrative progressives” of their generation, teachers’ jobs were to adhere closely to a script written by the “best and the brightest,” that is, by people like Maxwell.

A place like Columbia’s Teachers College might be useful to prepare administrators and others who wrote scripts. In that case, however, classroom teachers did not need such a broadly based preparation as Hunter’s college offered. Hunter complained in his 1905 annual report that Superintendent Maxwell had used new licensing examinations to warp the college curriculum to be sure that “the specific requirements of the city elementary course of study have been studied and memorized” rather than “to ascertain whether the applicants have acquired a broad knowledge of the recognized underlying principles of the science of education and the art of teaching” (Fraser, 2007, pp. 157-161).

The Normal College, renamed Hunter College of the City of New York in 1914, survived the battle with Maxwell, but it lost its monopoly position as the city’s teacher education agency. While the story at universities illustrates the tension between the study of teaching and learning versus “education science,” the battle between Thomas Hunter and William Henry Maxwell illustrates another profound tension: Should teachers be educated by universities or by school districts? How much education is enough for a teacher? What is the right sort of education? Should a teacher learn to be an autonomous professional? Who should control teacher education?

Many commentators—John Goodlad (1990) quickly comes to mind—have written eloquently about the tensions between those who educate teachers and most of their colleagues in other fields within the university, including those in education schools who study education and education policy, many of whom tend to look down on the teacher education faculty and their students. Few scholars, however, have given equal attention to the very real tensions that have long existed between school superintendents and those who educate teachers, or between those who want teachers educated to fit into schools as they are and those who want teachers to be professionals who can themselves participate in an effort to rethink what schools should be. Although institutional structures have changed and standards for entry into teaching are much higher than they were a century ago, these basic tensions are very much alive and well today.

What Is Different About the 21st Century?

Understanding tensions about the shape and purpose of teacher education from a century or more in the past is helpful, but we can’t approach the present without recognizing that teaching in the public schools of the United States is fundamentally a different job than it was even 30 or 40 years ago. Given the many changes in the work and the nation’s expectations for its teachers, it is not surprising that many today are calling for fundamental rethinking of the education of teachers. It is hard for most people to visualize the situation now, but before the 1960s, no one worried a great deal about a 50% student dropout rate occasioned by many special education students, non-English-speaking students, students who had trouble adjusting to traditional schooling for whatever reason, and very large numbers of African American and Latino students leaving school long before receiving a diploma.

Economic and cultural forces have led to a very large change. From the end of the Great Depression until well into the 1970s, for two generations at least, many people with a minimal education found an opportunity to have good and secure jobs at a reasonably good wage. More recently, however, the U.S. economy has moved rapidly from an industrial-based to a knowledge-based economy in which most of the routine production work has moved to other countries with a lower standard of living. American workers today must find their place in an economy where wealth is generated principally through knowledge, information, and services. If the nation is to preserve its standard of living and protect the quality of life of its citizens, it must place priority on producing a highly educated workforce.

Reinforcing the economic shifts of the late 20th century, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s led to major cultural and public policy changes. The exclusion of students because of not only their race, but also their gender, their disability, or the fact that they did not arrive at school speaking English, is now both socially unacceptable and against the law. Although the debates about what programs best serve students with limited English proficiency or what constitutes nonracist or antiracist educational policies remain intense today, there are virtually no voices advocating a return to the bad old days when so many were functionally excluded from schooling. A national consensus, based on both economic and ethical values, has formed around the ideal that no child should be left behind. The obvious extension of that agreement is that every teacher should be educated with the skills to ensure that no child is abandoned. This is a very different assignment than that given to most teachers before 1960. Any effort to rethink teacher education needs to begin by understanding the changing nature of teacher work.

Although it is closely related to the idea that all children can learn to high standards, we have still farther to go in rethinking the education of teachers in ways that directly address the American dilemma of racism in a modern democracy. What does it mean, after all, to prepare culturally responsive teachers who can embrace the racial and ethnic diversity of today’s students? Furthermore, we have not yet developed strategies to address the workforce implications of the welcome increase in opportunities for women, who now have wide professional options beyond teaching.

As the 20th century came to a close, new research revealed that previous generations of policy makers might have seriously underestimated the role of individual, well-educated teachers in enabling all students to succeed. For more than a generation, our knowledge of the role of teachers in student success was based on the work of sociologist James Coleman, sponsored by the U.S. government in the late 1960s. Coleman’s work, and further analyses of it by Christopher Jencks and his students, led to a prevailing conclusion that pupil achievement was largely controlled by economic inequality mediated in large part by family circumstances. As Coleman put it, “only a small part of [pupil achievement] is the result of school factors, in contrast to family background differences between communities” (Coleman et al., 1966, p. 297). Jencks was even more emphatic, declaring that “the character of a school’s output depends largely on a single input, namely the characteristics of the entering children” (Jencks et al., 1972, p. 256). The science on which this idea was based depended for the most part on cross-sectional analyses of average test scores of some groups of pupils compared with others. Longitudinal data permitting the analysis of the change in test scores by individual pupils over time, linked with the teachers who taught the pupils, were largely nonexistent in the 1960s and thus not available to Coleman or Jencks.

The information that shaped Coleman’s and Jencks’s conclusions changed with the broad introduction of mandatory statewide testing in the public schools in several states during the 1980s. As the accumulation of these data made further analysis possible, researchers began to look at the performance of individual pupils in successive years with different teachers. They discovered that some teachers demonstrated an ability to raise pupil achievement reliably, in some cases quite dramatically, even in the face of severe economic hardship experienced by the pupil (e.g., Sanders & Rivers, 1996). In other words, our scientific knowledge shifted from thinking that wealth, families, and neighborhoods were the principal source of pupil achievement to understanding that high-quality teaching could make a powerful contribution. As the Education Trust’s Kati Haycock (1998, p. 3) summarized the new research, we now know that “good teaching matters … a lot.”

Signs of Change

While criticism of teacher education has been a common practice throughout U.S. history, with virtually every decade of the 20th century seeing some report bemoaning the terrible state of the field, in the 1980s something new started to emerge. The pivotal work of Lee Shulman and his colleagues helped us understand the link between academic content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge partly learned in academic settings and partly acquired through guided clinical practice. The publication of this analysis, along with the introduction of a new concept, pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), signaled a significant advance in the teacher education literature (Shulman, 1986a, 1986b, 1987a, 1987b). Thorough academic content knowledge was not displaced by PCK in this formulation. Quite the opposite, PCK was explicitly predicated upon solid deep knowledge of academic content. Although empirical study of PCK is difficult, it is not impossible (e g., Grossman, 1990), and the theory has proven robust in conveying a persuasive understanding of how content mastery can improve teaching.

The public policy environment reflecting the emergence of a new economy helped stimulate a number of reformers who began to propose new ideas and to implement them. Specific rethinking and design of new models characterized Tomorrow’s Teachers by the Holmes Group of Education Deans and A Nation Prepared by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, which appeared simultaneously in 1986, and the significant work of John Goodlad and his colleagues at the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington. By 1990, the teacher education landscape was recognizably different than even a decade before. Advocacy for careful research-based restructuring in teacher education was gaining a secure foothold in the field.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), an outgrowth of the Carnegie Forum, began assembling documentation to help it in its quest to define and certify the most advanced teachers in the nation. New definitions of excellence, however much they were being debated, were emerging. In 1996 another report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, written by a team led by Linda Darling-Hammond, called on states, universities, school districts, and the nation to “get serious about standards for both students and teachers” (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996). The report, which was widely debated, called for linking the standards emerging from the National Board to a more consistent pattern for state approval of individual teacher education programs and to institutional accreditation of those programs. The National Commission, which had issued the report, also became a self-sustaining organization fostering conferences and creating a series of state partnerships called upon to define clear standards and demand that they be met.

The United States has not invested significantly in rigorous research on education, with the result that there are large shortfalls in our empirical knowledge about teaching, and correspondingly many opportunities for productive research. For example, while we do now know that good teachers make a far greater difference in the lives of their students than we had previously thought, we do not know with any degree of certainty how to ensure a reliable professional education that results in teachers of this kind. Indeed, the evidence is now clearly indicating that teachers play a major role in determining pupil-learning growth, but what is not yet fully known, and a promising target of research inquiry, is specifically how teachers who are routinely associated with high pupil-learning growth differ in their specific classroom practices from teachers who are not associated with high pupil-learning growth, or how to educate teachers to make that sort of difference for their students. Today, there is a basis for research that, if applied rigorously, ought to allow us in the coming decade to know much more about which of the current efforts to rethink teacher education are truly the most promising and which, however worthy of the initial effort, have thus far yielded more modest results.

Rethinking University-Based Teacher Education

An ambitious effort to rethink teacher education in recent years is Carnegie Corporation of New York’s initiative, Teachers for a New Era (TNE). Since announcing its plans in 2001, Carnegie Corporation, with added support from the Annenberg Foundation and the Ford Foundation, has recruited 11 highly regarded and quite diverse college- and university-based teacher education programs to be part of a network committed to fundamental evidence-based rethinking of teacher education. Each of the 11 universities has received $5 million from the foundations for their own work plus an additional $500,000 for work with professional partners, and has also promised to raise an additional $5 million to sustain their TNE efforts.

As TNE has unfolded, the funders have provided continuous intensive technical assistance to all institutions engaged in the effort through a team of professional support personnel at the Academy for Educational Development. In addition, they have supported the creation of a “TNE Learning Network” of 30 additional colleges and universities that are committed to the TNE design principles and are loosely affiliated with TNE. The result is an investment of more than $130 million over 5 years in the creation of new modes of teacher education that can be rigorously empirically evaluated and out of which may come answers to some basic research questions, most of which derive from one large inquiry: How do we produce the kinds of teachers who enable the most significant improvement in the learning of their students?

Given our own association with the TNE effort, it is not surprising that we begin our discussion of efforts to rethink teacher education here. The TNE intervention does not specify a format, model, or kind of teacher education, because there is at this time insufficient empirical evidence to justify broad-scale implementation of a particular format (cf. Shulman, 2005). Instead, the effort is functional, requiring attention to three broad design principles. By pursuing strategies associated with the design principles, the ideas inherent in TNE could in principle be adopted by any teacher education program in the nation.

The inductive approach fostered by TNE focuses on observable pupil learning as the key indicator of effective teaching. By using this indicator to identify interventions within teacher education that reliably result in pupil learning, TNE aims over time to shape distinctive ways of teaching apprentice teachers how to teach. This is one route to developing what Shulman (2005) has called “signature pedagogies” that are essential to thinking about teaching as a profession.

The first design principle is cultivating a respect for evidence. Within this general framework is the idea that higher education institutions must find a way to measure the quality of their teacher education programs by demonstrable pupil learning occurring in classrooms of teachers who are graduates of the program. Such a respect for empirical outcomes, quantitative and qualitative measurement, and scientific reasoning is not common within the field of teacher education. Indeed, based on their extensive primary observation of doctoral students, researchers, and practitioners, Gamse and Singer (2005, p. 8) maintained that “many educators have long resisted the kind of rigorous research and scientific analysis that identify the curricula and teaching strategies most likely to help children succeed in school.” They note that “the mere mention of scientific rigor seems to produce a bitter animus among some educators” (p. 8). Others join with Grossman (2004, p. 17) in observing of teacher educators that “we are producing too little research that is credible to the larger research community and to policy makers.”

One way of looking at the extensive literature about teacher education is to consider the kind of analytical framework applied to it, which usually reflects a stress upon one of three types of reasoning: normative, logical, or empirical (Fallon, 2008). Studies of teacher education are rich and deep in normative and in logical considerations, but very thin in empirical understanding or justification (Borko, Liston, & Whitcomb, 2007). Normative argument is meant here in the sense developed by Talcott Parsons (1937) from the analysis by David Hume, and not in the sense of most common practice. Thus, a normative proposition is derived from values, and asserts what ought to be in some ideal state, often in contrast to what is. An example of a normative statement is that teachers should be competent, caring, and professional. A logical proposition derives from rational thought, according to established rules. For example, if we know that a child cannot learn subject matter in the absence of that subject matter, we can deduce that if the teacher does not know the subject matter, the child cannot learn the subject matter from the teacher.

Unlike the purely cognitive processes associated with normative and logical reasoning, empirical knowledge is derived directly from observation based upon experience. Although essential to the procedures and reasoning associated with the scientific method, empirical knowledge by itself is not sufficient for science, which also requires systematic observation, usually in the form of designed experiments. Empirical knowledge can arise from qualitative methods, as in the analysis of carefully defined case studies, or from quantitative methods, as in relating measures of pupil performance to measures of the qualities of the teacher of the pupils.

Until reliable empirical evidence becomes widespread as a vehicle for improving university-based teacher education, it will simply not be able to establish itself as a respected means of professional education either in relationship to other university programs or in relationship to school districts. Because of weak empirical evidence of the effectiveness of many programs of teacher education, with increasing frequency districts have been following in the footsteps of William Henry Maxwell in taking on the complete education, licensure, and placement of able but unprepared college graduates without any recourse to university-based academic programs of professional education. Rethinking teacher education in the absence of a strong empirical research base cannot yield convincing arguments on behalf of teacher education.

The second design principle of TNE is effectively engaging faculty from the disciplines of the arts and sciences. This includes ensuring that prospective teachers acquire knowledge of the content that the teacher will teach, of course, but also speaks to the importance of general education for the teacher. A further conjecture is that faculty from the disciplines of the arts and sciences will learn from teacher candidates and their colleague teacher educators in colleges of education more effective ways of representing content so that it is readily learned by students. One goal of the arts and sciences design principle is to bridge the divide that Frederick Barnard and Nicholas Butler were unable to cross a century ago—the reluctance of many arts and sciences faculty to risk reputation and status by getting too close to the difficult work of educating teachers, and the equally great reluctance of many teacher educators to admit that people who have spent their professional lives in research and teaching in traditional academic disciplines have anything of value to offer to the schools.

The third design principle calls for understanding the act of teaching as skilled clinical practice. Thus, it considers pupils as clients, the classroom as a clinic, and the teacher as a clinician who enables each child to learn to high standards. Taking this idea seriously requires that teacher education programs work closely with representative school districts, and equally that these schools be willing to embrace the added value of university-based education programs. Thus, teacher candidates are exposed early and often to working classrooms and reflect critically on what they are observing and experiencing there. The clinical practice design principle calls for highly effective teachers from schools to be appointed to positions as “professors of practice” in the teacher education program, and for higher education faculty from the disciplines of the arts and sciences to observe teaching in classrooms and assist with instructional strategies for teacher candidates about the teaching of academic content.

The idea of teaching as a clinical practice profession arises in part from the observation that teachers learn how to teach effectively through successive repetition over time, along a continuum of performance from apprentice to novice to practitioner to master. From this perspective, a teacher education program should do more than educate teachers from apprentice to novice. The program has a fiduciary responsibility to offer to each of its graduates, who are novices, a program of intensive mentoring and support during the first 2 full years of professional clinical practice. Thus, the novice teacher who was once a teacher candidate continues to receive education in becoming an effective teacher through an academy-based induction or residency. Although it is too early to draw firm conclusions about the success of any aspect of the TNE intervention, a pattern is becoming clear regarding the remarkable success of the implementation of academy-based induction as a supplement to district-based induction programs.

For example, the University of Virginia has shown that its academy-based induction achieved a 33% reduction in attrition of novice teachers over and above the existing district-based induction program by itself. An academy-based program does not replace a district program but is a supplement of a different kind and a significant means of breaking down the old dichotomy in which universities took complete responsibility for a candidate up to the day of graduation after which responsibility shifted completely from the university to the school district. While district-based induction focuses on teacher practice within the norms of the district, academy-based induction focuses on more general issues of clinical practice, including episodes for which open discussion with district-based colleagues may not be congenial.

Building clinical skill during the initial years of teaching can produce significant cost savings to districts in that attrition of new teachers is reduced and the effectiveness of those who continue is increased. Districts spend less on constant recruitment and induction of new teachers, and benefit from more effective instruction for pupils and correspondingly higher pupil achievement. Teacher education programs also improve through continuous interaction with numerous clinical case studies, whose successful resolution informs their subsequent programs of instruction for teacher candidates.

While TNE may be the largest, it is not the only effort to rethink teacher education in the 21st century. Since assuming the leadership of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in 2006, Arthur Levine has shifted a part of the foundation’s traditional emphasis on supporting the education of college-level faculty to a fellowship program for aspiring teachers. The Wilson Fellows program will be much more than a scholarship program, however. The intent is clearly to recruit some of the best of the nation’s college graduates to attend university-based teacher education programs and equally to reshape those programs by limiting the fellows to programs that meet specific standards for quality. The Wilson Foundation hopes to establish a clear model of best practices for teacher education by rewarding programs that recruit students with a strong liberal arts undergraduate degree and then offer them a graduate program in how to teach most effectively. Much more than TNE, the Wilson program is designed to advance a particular mode of teacher education, that is, graduate-level professional education for outstanding liberal arts graduates. But like TNE, Wilson also seeks fundamental rethinking within universities about the nature of graduate professional programs in teaching. The Wilson Fellowship aims for these changes by offering both prestige and substantial financial support to attract strong candidates to high-quality programs of teacher education.

Arthur Levine’s study, Educating School Teachers, was supported in large part by the Annenberg Foundation. He found what he considered to be excellent teacher education programs in more than a quarter of the schools he and his team visited. He also found that in the majority, “teacher education is a troubled field, characterized by curricular confusion, a faculty disconnected from practice, low admission and graduation standards, wide disparities in institutional quality, and weak quality control enforcement” (Levine, 2006, p. 21).

Levine (2006) provided profiles of four very different teacher education programs that he characterized as “exemplary.” He describes programs at Alverno College, an undergraduate school founded by the School Sisters of St. Francis, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Emporia State College, a public institution in Emporia, Kansas; and two TNE participants, the University of Virginia and Stanford University. These programs have in common clarity of curricular purpose, extensive field experience in the schools, and close collaboration of liberal arts and education faculty.

Many higher education institutions are fundamentally rethinking their approach to teacher education. One of us was closely involved with an effort at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1999. Northeastern closed its Education Department and began afresh. The new School of Education is housed within the College of Arts & Sciences as an enterprise of the whole college. A majority of education faculty hold tenure in one of the traditional arts and sciences disciplinary departments in addition to their joint appointment in education. This core faculty recommends appointment of additional faculty in fields of curriculum, urban education, and human development, and the whole faculty retains responsibility for a high level of integration of content and pedagogy. The new school, which includes both undergraduate and graduate programs, focuses on the education of what it calls “community dedicated teachers” who spend at least 30 hours in a community agency and well over 100 hours in Boston schools, where they observe practicing teachers and do their student teaching.

More recently, the University of Chicago closed its venerable School of Education, which had once been John Dewey’s academic home, and is now moving to create a new teacher education program based primarily within the arts and sciences. Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education program is designed for highly talented college graduates selected into a master’s degree teacher education curriculum. The program is designed and taught by senior professors from across the university and carefully selected Chicago teachers. As in some similar programs, graduate students at Chicago spend a full year in a school-based internship, supervised by cooperating teachers from Chicago and the program’s clinical supervisors, while they also take university classes. And like the TNE programs, the University of Chicago is promising its graduates 2 years of professional development and continued mentoring to ensure their success as urban teachers in Chicago. All of this is tied to a larger Chicago Urban Education Initiative designed to engage the university in the issues of contemporary urban education through basic research, applied research in Chicago, the development of model university-sponsored charter schools, as well as the teacher education program. This teacher education program functions in the absence of a school or department of education in the university (Knowles, Raudenbush, & Webber, 2007).

Academic professional organizations are also playing a role in rethinking teacher education. For example, in 2006 a conference of historians and educators produced a remarkable statement, “The Next Generation of History Teachers: A Challenge to Departments of History at American Colleges and Universities.” Endorsed by the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians—the two major academic associations of history professors—it calls for every history department in the United States to give serious consideration to preparing future history teachers. “One assumption underlies all the others,” the authors of this report wrote, “historians are uniquely qualified to assist prospective teachers in developing the habits of mind and instructional strategies necessary to teach effectively about the past. Long experience suggests that if historians do not assert responsibility for preparing future history teachers, others will” (The American Historical Association, 2007, p. 2).

The statement by historians reflects a growing understanding among the professoriate in arts and sciences that many of the students in their classrooms are prospective teachers. Therefore, the disciplines bear a responsibility for helping their students develop as teachers of a discipline. These college faculty, and their professional associations in physics, chemistry, English, mathematics, biology, and a host of other fields, represent a significant untapped resource in rethinking teacher education.

In 1963 in one of the more informed critiques of teacher education to appear in the middle of the 20th century, former Harvard president James Bryant Conant (1963) wrote:

While I am not prepared to say that there was, or is, actual hostility between educational and academic professors on every campus, there has always been a considerable gap between the two groups in a majority of institutions. Such a gap often exists in spite of fine words spoken by administrators about “an all-university approach” to the education of teachers, and existence of a committee that symbolized the approach, (pp. 3-4)

In 2007, at least in places like the ones we’ve just described, something closer to a true “all-university approach” and even the development of more meaningful partnerships with the public schools is apparent.

Although many universities have been engaged in rethinking teacher education, some impatient reformers have given up on university-based teacher education and championed a wide variety of so-called “alternative routes” into teaching. For most of the second half of the 20th century, graduation from a state-approved college-or university-based teacher education program was virtually the only route into teaching. By 1990, however, the monopoly held by these state-approved, university-based programs had begun to erode. Impatience with the lack of empirical evidence that traditional university-based teacher education programs resulted in effective teachers gave rise to many of these alternative strategies for placing teachers in schools. Another essay in this volume (Hawley, p. 43) discusses the different pathways into teaching that are now a part of the ongoing rethinking of teacher education for the 21st century.

Turning to the Future

Empirical analyses of effects of teacher education began to increase in the beginning of the 21st century and are now broadly under way. A particularly fruitful approach has been taken in looking at the effectiveness of teachers as a function of the different pathways by which those teachers arrived in their classrooms (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2006). New York City was an attractive target for these researchers because of its uncommon size at more than 1.1 million pupils, and annual hires of new teachers averaging about 7,500. Using value-added achievement scores of pupils as their measure of teacher effectiveness, Boyd et al. (2006) found that novice teachers who earned certificates from traditional university-based teacher education programs produced significantly greater learning gains among their pupils in the first year of teaching than other novice teachers, such as those from alternative programs such as Teach for America, who had no known experience with a traditional teacher education program. This difference, while heartening in showing a positive influence of teacher education programs, shrank in successive years and was not at all evident by the third year of teaching. By the third year, however, the alternatively recruited teachers had all participated in teacher education programs, and teachers from all routes had differentially remained or left, in ways that were not fully measured. As we are writing this chapter, the New York City pathways study is continuing, with greater sophistication, additional measures, and additional control variables.

The future of teacher education depends upon expanding our knowledge base through systematic empirical inquiry. Promising work is already under way to look more closely at the specific practices of effective teachers using empirically validated observation protocols, and relating these practices to pupil learning gains. For example, in a pioneering study, Hamre and Pianta (2005) have been able to show that teachers identified on an observation protocol as being particularly focused on instructional support were able to eliminate completely a reading achievement gap among first graders within a single school year, and that teachers identified by the same protocol as being particularly focused on emotional support were able to eliminate completely a gap in behavioral school readiness among first graders in a single year.

Empirical studies using longitudinal data and thus linking value-added pupil achievement gains with specific teachers permit persuasive study of a wide array of independent variables, from the effects of teacher education programs to specific practices of teachers. Above all, they demonstrate that a genuine science of teaching and learning in everyday classrooms in schools is being built and is serious, fruitful, and beneficial. This elegant work casts teacher education in a different light, a view more in keeping with the original intent of great university leaders more than a century ago, and one that makes possible a fundamental rethinking of schools of education.

In a brilliant address, Deborah L. Ball (2007) summarizes the criticisms of schools of education and concludes that these academic units can best be put right by focusing squarely on the domain of education, and most specifically on teacher education. In her schema, schools of education at leading research universities should invert their priorities by placing the education of teachers at the core and forefront of their mission. By leading in this direction, they stand to gain the status long denied them. Through their research, scholarship, and production of empirically verifiable high-quality programs for teachers, they will elevate their position within their universities and their value to their colleagues at other colleges and universities where teachers are educated in large numbers. These schools of education in research universities should also be the principal supply of the research-based findings that advance the entire enterprise of teacher education.

We are experiencing an extraordinary moment in the history of teacher education. Foundations are investing millions of dollars into rethinking teacher education and into the creation of research tools that will allow far more fine-grained analysis than was ever possible before. University faculty and administrators are risking professional reputation, the ire of some colleagues, and comfortable ways of doing things to create new models that link professors in education with others in arts and science disciplines and link both with newfound colleagues among public school teachers and administrators. Public school teachers and leaders are taking similar risks, opening their world to far deeper partnerships than have existed in most places in the past. Scholars are conducting research aimed at understanding the specific actions, modes of thinking, and ethical frameworks that can reliably improve the clinical practice of teaching. Guided by an expert panel led by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth Zeichner (2005), a summary of research in teacher education initiated by the American Educational Research Association pointed the way toward a new research horizon by acknowledging the need for strong empirical grounding and stressing its promise and rising momentum.

Some might conclude, based upon recurrent reports about the weaknesses of teacher education, that the glass is half empty, but there is energy and enthusiasm enough for those of us who choose to see it half full. As we write this chapter, many scholars are rethinking teacher education with seriousness, an attention to solid research, and a growing understanding of how to reach the goal of a profession of teaching that shares key characteristics with other professions and can convincingly demonstrate its value. These efforts are creating new knowledge and leading the field toward strong programs of teacher education.


Teacher education came into American universities over the course of the 20th century as a kind of ugly duckling. Within schools of education, it was seldom honored for what it was, but rather scorned for what it was not. As we enter a new century, the ugly duckling may at last mature into a graceful swan. Barriers and prejudices remain. For productive rethinking to succeed, university-based educators must make the principal domain of education, teaching and learning, central to the mission of schools of education. Teachers and teacher educators must build a strong capacity to work comfortably with empirical data, understanding that data are friends of excellent teaching, and to forge new knowledge from rigorous empirical investigation. Understanding teaching as skilled clinical practice will require academicians to develop new kinds of relationships with practicing teachers and school district leaders. University faculty in the disciplines of the arts and sciences will need to join the enterprise in ways that both contribute to and benefit from a deeper understanding of how academic content becomes a teachable subject matter.

To a degree that was never true before, today’s educators are the beneficiaries of research showing quite conclusively that high-quality teachers reliably enable large pupil learning gains for their students—all of their students. We also have new tools for evaluating the impact of elements within a teacher education program, and thus determining with clarity what interventions are most likely to help teachers facilitate learning gains in pupils. We have a wide range of new ideas for teacher education based on often courageous campus-based and district-based experiments of the last 2 decades. What remains to be done is the determined work of those who embrace the challenge of investing in high-quality evidence-based teacher education. Gratifying opportunity will reward those leaders within universities and schools of education who make teacher education and the scientific study of teaching and learning a priority mission of their institutions.