Op-Ed: College and University-Based Teacher Education in New Jersey — A Rejoinder

New Jersey’s teacher education programs realize theory and research must inform practice

This summer NJ Spotlight interviewed Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, about the state of teacher education and preparation in New Jersey and nationwide.

The following is a response from the deans and directors of the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to three major misconceptions promoted by Levine: 1) education schools tend to be low in selectivity; 2) there is very little connection between the universities and the public schools; and 3) the curriculum does not make a lot of sense.

In New Jersey, teacher education candidates, on average, academically outperform their nonteacher education peers. In order to be certified to teach in the State of New Jersey, students must major in a liberal art or science and nearly half of this coursework must be at the advanced level. In securing national accreditation, every teacher education program analyzes the performance of its students with respect to the coursework in the student’s major. Universally, the grade-point average (GPA) of students in teacher education programs with respect to their major is as high or higher, than the nonteacher education majors.

New Jersey teacher education programs have always had selection criteria including but not limited to: academic ability, recommendation letters, personal statement, previous work with children, and individual interviews. Contrary to the selective process of New Jersey’s college and university-based teacher education programs is the alternative teacher-training program recently approved to operate in New Jersey. To enroll in this program, students must 1) Demonstrate a willingness to work hard and commitment to demonstrate proficiency at teaching techniques on behalf of their students and 2) Maintain employment at the district or charter school in which the teacher is employed at the commencement of 2013-2014 school year (Relay/GSE, Graduate School of Education 2013 Newark Admissions Guide, p. 4).

The notion that there is very little connection between universities and the K-12 schools is simply not true. All teacher education programs in New Jersey are nationally accredited and, as a condition of being nationally accredited, have a close working relationship with the public schools. Moreover, both the K-12 schools and higher education realize the development of great teachers is a shared responsibility regulated by the state program-approval process through the New Jersey Professional Standards for Teachers, the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards, and the Common Core State Standards.

Moreover, many teacher education programs have an extensive network of Professional Development Schools (PDS), which provide clinical collaboration between schools and higher education for placement of student teachers and professional development for faculty and administrators. Teacher education programs often hold classes within schools and work closely with teachers and administrators to provide relevant and practical training on effective teaching. In addition, teacher education programs hire teachers and administrators as part-time, adjunct faculty to work with their students, ensuring that their curriculum is current and relates directly to school culture and practices. New Jersey’s teacher education programs realize theory and research must inform practice and structure their curriculum accordingly.

Teaching is a complex profession, with teachers having hundreds of interactions with students every hour. Many of these interactions involve the teacher assessing the student’s previous knowledge, skills, and dispositions and creating an individual learning plan.

Alternative teacher-training programs that emphasize technical skills and behavior-management strategies over learning theory and educational research foster a “one size fits all” mentality and limit the education of their candidates by offering a narrowly defined curriculum, designed for a particular type of school, focused on a specific style of teaching. Such programs restrict the ability of teachers to make the critical judgments and crucial decisions good teachers make every day in the best interests of their students regardless of the school’s socio-economic status.

The curriculum in a college- or university-based teacher education program is contextualized in real classrooms and schools across the state, from the wealthiest to the most economically disadvantaged. This curriculum is constantly being reviewed and revised as new studies and relevant research informs the field.

National accreditation assures this continuous improvement process and the state plays a critical role by regulating the teacher candidate’s: 1) general education; 2) major; and 3) professional preparation encompassing coursework and clinical practice. Research and performance-based criteria are used to set high standards requiring candidates to have a comprehensive understanding of content knowledge, practical skills, and theory to teach diverse learners.

On December 11, 2006, three months after the publication of “Educating School Teachers,” Levine was invited by and met with the deans and directors of New Jersey’s teacher education programs. At that meeting, the deans and directors accepted the challenge of designing and offering programs that prepare beginning teachers to succeed in the complex and complicated world of today’s classrooms.

Teaching is a vocation unlike any other and if John Dewey were alive today he would admonish Levine for his either/or view of teaching. Dewey believed either/or propositions lead us nowhere and his writings on the relation of science and philosophy as a basis for education bears this out. Teacher education programs bring together knowledge, philosophy, research, and practice right from the start and provide the tools, the learning theory, the child development knowledge, and the educational philosophies, as well as the teaching strategies to use in practice.

In closing, there is one area of agreement between Dr. Levine and the deans and directors — his reference to 90 percent of all teachers entering the profession coming from a college or university-based teacher education program. The reason students are choosing this type of education and schools are hiring these graduates, despite alternative training programs that expedite entry into the profession with minimal preparation, is a college or university-based teacher education program is still the best way to enter the profession — prepared with the knowledge, skills, and clinical experiences to succeed and enable all students to achieve their fullest potential.