Studying Teacher Education
Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth M. Zeichner, eds., American Educational Research Association
This humongous volume from AERA deserves your awareness even if you cannot face its 800 generally depressing pages. In fact, you can learn all that most education policy wonks need to know by acquainting yourself with its executive summary, which checks in at a relatively svelte 35 pages. (Or you could settle for the excellent Education Week article about it.) I seldom have much positive to say about AERA and its publications, but the 23 members of that organization's "panel on research and teacher education," who labored for years on this project and most of whom also authored chapters in this volume, have done the field of teacher education a major service despite their parade of glum conclusions. The gist is that many of the practices and assumptions we associate with teacher education are supported by little or no rigorous research. Which isn't to say they "don't work." Rather, it says we cannot be confident that they do, based on competent studies carried out thus far. The AERA panel set rigorous criteria for the studies that it examined: if they weren't tied to some sort of important, measurable impact, they didn't count. But time and again, the available studies yielded little by way of robust causal relationships. There is, for example, scant evidence that teachers who do well on state tests are also more effective in the classroom, or that accreditation for teacher education programs makes a difference. (Neither are they persuaded by extant studies of "alternative" certification.") Along the way, the panel does disabuse readers of a few misleading assumptions and makes a host of recommendations for better research in the future. Heaven knows we need it, or we'll continue forever poking around in the dark, allowing preference or ideology to substitute for evidence. You cannot download this whopper but you can learn more about it, and place an order for it, by surfing here.
"Review panel turns up little evidence to back teacher ed. practices," by Debra Viadero, Education Week, June 22, 2005