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View Diary: When the Obvious Isn’t True: What’s Really Wrong with Teacher Quality and Teacher Education? (28 comments)

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  •  Reposting from the diary, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, vahana, cynndara

    Let's Finnish Education,
    Finland's education is sometimes depicted in simplistic terms, resulting in an impression that Finland's schools have no assessment or evaluation, that project-based learning, sometimes referred to as learner initiated, is all that occurs in Finnish schools, and that teachers in Finland's education system have an autonomy in instructional methods that includes no accountability.

    When we read more thoroughly we find that Finnish teachers are well-prepared both in teaching skill and in the subject matter they teach, that Finland has a national core curriculum, and that students must pass a matriculation exam demonstrating that they have acquired the skills and knowledge the country works so hard to provide them. It is this skill and knowledge that Finland measurably achieves more successfully than other nations.
    ... we hasten to add that self-directed problem- and project-based learning can easily turn into a poor substitute for deep mastery of the underlying subjects in the curriculum. When the student lacks a firm command of the nuances of the core subjects in the curriculum, project- and problem-based curricula often result in very shallow knowledge gained in the classroom. What makes it work in Finland is the fact that these pedagogies and learning methods rest on top of solid mastery of the core subjects in the curriculum, acquired by Finnish students in the lower grades...
    ... many of these top-performing countries have not only greatly raised their standards for getting into higher education institutions preparing teachers, but most have moved teacher education out of their lower tier institutions and into their top tier institutions. This has had the effect of further raising the status of teaching, improving the quality of faculty, improving the quality of research on education, facilitating the dissemination of high quality research to prospective teachers and creating a teaching force that is less likely to put up with old forms of work organization once they become school teachers.

    ... The Finns, as we have seen, require all of their teachers, including their primary school teachers, to have a master’s degree. Primary teachers major in education, but they must minor in at least two of the subjects in the primary curriculum. These minors are taken not in the education schools but in the arts and sciences departments of the university. Upper grade teachers must major in the subject they will be teaching. Their education in pedagogy is either integrated into their five-year program or provided full time in the master’s year after the student has completed a bachelors program with a major in the subject that person will teach. Candidates who already have a master’s degree in the subject they will teach must get another master’s degree in teaching.

    ... Clearly the Finns place a very high value on having teachers who have really mastered the subjects they will teach, and have also placed a high value on giving teachers the skills they will need to teach those subjects well once they arrive in the classroom.

    ... In Shanghai, 90 percent of the teacher preparation program is devoted to mastery of the subject the prospective teacher will be teaching. A school mathematics teacher in training is expected to take the same undergraduate mathematics curriculum as undergraduates who will go on to do graduate work in mathematics, a very demanding curriculum.  

    It is clear that the Shanghai authorities are at least as determined as the Finns that the teachers who go on to teach science or any other subject know as much about the content of those subjects by the time they complete their undergraduate program as the people who will go on to be physicists or chemists or mathematicians know about those subjects when they complete their undergraduate program.  And that is just as true of their future elementary school teachers as it is of their secondary school teachers.

    ... The cumulative result of these differences is a much greater likelihood that, from the first grade to the last, school children in Shanghai and Finland are likely to be taught by teachers who have a better command of the subjects they will be teaching. The consequences of these differences are incalculable.

    •  On Finnish education (and other matters): (0+ / 0-)

      Most teachers in Finland graduate in the top half of their university class, whereas teachers in the U.S. mostly graduate in the bottom third.  In Finland, teaching is a prestigious profession, and very highly qualified people are attracted to go into it.  In the U.S., some intelligent people become teachers, but many talented people are channeled into business or other more lucrative enterprises.  To improve education, we need a culture shift in the U.S., to value teachers and what they do.

      Teachers need to master the content and the relevant pedagogy, but my impression is that many of the required education courses cause brain damage, and they do not contribute positively to preparing teachers.

      I also agree that the main factors determining students' academic performance are what happens to students outside the classroom.  Instead of focusing so much on education and educational opportunity, we should work first on improving the economic conditions that students and everyone else live in.

      •  If this is true . . . (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Linda Wood

        ". . .  many of the required education courses cause brain damage, and they do not contribute positively to preparing teachers."

        then it isn't just that these courses are useless, or that our teachers aren't being trained ENOUGH.

        Perhaps we need to investigate the possibility that some of the unquestioned assumptions taken as fundamental principles in American educational institutions are just flat-out WRONG.  This would help to explain the empirical experience, that despite ever-increasing credential requirements and educational demands upon teachers, the end product just continues to get worse and worse.  It is not unknown for a field in which research is easily biased by researcher and institutional beliefs to merrily pursue chimeras for the better part of a century, all the while proclaiming their superior knowledge of the facts.  Just look at neoclassic economics.

      •  The proof being in the pudding, (0+ / 0-)

        your assertion that,

        To improve education, we need a culture shift in the U.S., to value teachers and what they do.
        suggests to me that you think Americans should respect teachers regardless of what they do.

        The reason Finland's teachers are respected is that they do a good job. I'm not saying that U.S. teachers don't do a good job across the board. But the controversy over whether or not they should be trained differently, or pitted against each other, or released from the constraints of pedagogy altogether, comes from observation, not just from university faculty having to provide remedial education to incoming freshmen, but from parents who see their children struggling with basic skills and information.

        My personal view is that the problem comes from the Education schools' promulgation of bad pedagogical practices that have been instituted in public schools across the country during this period of declining skills and knowledge. I don't think the problem has to do with individual teachers, except that teachers who have seen the decline and have questioned the pedagogy deserve a lot of credit.

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