University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Teacher Preparation Debate Continues

In The View from the OEP on June 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

If you’ve been following the OEP Blog lately, you probably noticed the lively debate on traditional and alternative teacher certification programs in the state of Arkansas between Professors Goering and McComas and OEP Director Gary Ritter, plus an equally spirited continuation of the conversation in the “Comments” section. In the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Friday, June 10th, another University of Arkansas professor weighed in on the debate. Samuel Totten, Professor Emeritus of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and Health Professions, responded to Goering and McComas’ original May 19th piece in his op-ed “Quality programs? Teacher education now below par.”  In short, he criticizes the Goering and McComas commentary for making many assertions with very little evidence to support their claims.

Totten’s full article is available here but is available online only to subscribers. Because this is not our work, we won’t reproduce it in full here on our blog. While we still encourage you to read the article in full, here are some snippets of Professor Totten’s argument (for our readers who are following this debate):

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Totten takes issue with Goering and McComas’ criticism that Teach For America teachers do not stay long enough in schools; he cites recent work showing that nearly half of all new teachers, traditionally and alternatively-certified, leave teaching within the first five years.
Totten is not persuaded by the example of teachers in Finland.  He argues that modeling our system of teacher preparation after Finland is not a viable solution because Finland requires far fewer teachers than the US, has more selective teacher prep program admissions, and pays higher (relative) salaries to teachers.
Goering and McComas never clearly define a high-quality traditional teacher preparation program, and thus cannot back up their suggestion that Arkansas’ traditional preparation programs are of high quality and will produce better teachers than alternative certification programs will.

Totten concludes that “there is a dire need for as much innovation as educators and others in the United States can come up with,” including alternative certification programs with drastically different models than traditional teacher prep programs.

Of course, we here at the OEP agree with Professor Totten’s call for innovation. We only ask that, with that innovation we also bring evaluation, so we can figure out what types of innovations help kids. What are your thoughts on Professor Totten’s addition to the debate? As always, we would love to hear your opinions in the comment section below!

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  1. It makes sense to say that we need innovation, but that is far from specific. It makes sense to borrow from countries with proven success such as Finland. As a former graduate student in education and a current student of public policy, I see the argument of non-transferability or the question of external validity repeatedly abused in order to say that we cannot use examples from other cultures here in the US. I find it absurd. Obviously we cannot take use them without adjustments, but said adjustments could be made for the multicultural aspects that make up the US (among other things).

    Also, the teacher pay/incentive is an entirely different issue that should not be cited as if it were unchangeable. The issue of teacher pay highlights what I believe to be the more important difference between us and more successful educational systems, and that is, respect for education and teachers. I agree that measures of accountability are necessary, but if you look at Finland, they do not test very often (once their teachers are certified, they trust them) and they realize that teaching for the test is highly antithetical to a good education. Students should not be burdened with our need to count costs, nor the politics that have shaped our educational system.

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