An Insider Grades Education Schools
TEACHERS FOR OUR NATION'S SCHOOLS. By John I. Goodlad, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 427 pp., $21.95 FEW readers of this substantial study of teacher preparation, ``Teachers for Our Nation's Schools,'' are apt to be surprised by the major conclusions of its author, an education professor at the University of Washington and a revered senior member of the educationist fraternity.
After examining 29 teacher-education programs in public and private institutions, John Goodlad finds them without clear missions, coherent curricula, or large visions, weary and inept in their handling of tomorrow's schoolteachers, hamstrung by state rules and procedures, and lacking in campus status and effective leadership.
Even in the colleges of education, Goodlad reports, most deans ``identified something other than teacher education as their top priority.'' The result is a gross mismatch between the kinds of changes the nation wants to see in its schools and the kinds of people going to work in them.
Perhaps someone living on a remote island has not already deduced that teacher preparation is one of the great debacles of American education. Closing down all the schools of education is a favorite nostrum; bringing talented people into primary and secondary classrooms via other routes is a reform strategy that is widely gaining favor among policymakers. Most states have adopted some form of ``alternative certification'' whereby capable people who did not pass through conventional teacher education programs can become public school teachers. Nobody has been waiting for Goodlad to document the failings of traditional preparation programs.
His conclusions nonetheless add solemn authority to this widespread gut instinct. And are they ever solemn! This is one of the more portentous and pontifical volumes in years, albeit more intelligible than much that passes for expert discourse in the field of education.
Several Goodlad insights are also valuable, because they fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Many contemporary reformers confidently assert, for example, that the premier change needed in teacher preparation is to abolish the undergraduate ``education major'' and instead insist that future instructors concentrate in the liberal arts discipline that they plan to teach.
Goodlad usefully points out that this presumes greater rigor and coherence within the liberal arts curriculum than it customarily displays, especially in large universities. The shortcomings of the undergraduate curriculum itself thus menace any teacher-education reforms that depend on the rest of the campus knowing what it's about. For this and other reasons, Goodlad has more praise for the teacher-training programs of small private liberal arts colleges than for other institutions in his sample.
The policy core of the book is a list of 19 ``postulates'' by which the author would overhaul teacher education. Many of them are unimpeachable if one accepts the traditional parameters of university-based strategies. ``How can one quarrel with what is proposed?'' asks the slightly exasperated education dean of the University of Tennessee in a recent commentary. ``I am jaded by such lists. ... For those who are actually struggling with reform, the 19 planks are not needed. We have more than enough canons to guide us.''
The boldest of Goodlad's suggestions is that universities establish new ``centers of pedagogy'' outside their colleges of education and entrust these with the preparation of future teachers. This reminded me of Washington's endless attempts to make agencies work better by restructuring them when their real problems - never solved - consist of people, procedures, and programs that do not change no matter how often the organization chart is redrawn.
The teacher preparation field is similarly awash in nonsensical ideas and assumptions about education itself that will outlast any rearrangement of campus responsibility.
Goodlad's premier error was confining his horizon to the ivied campus walls in the first place. Today's most promising changes in teacher preparation and licensure are occurring elsewhere: in school-based programs, apprenticeship schemes that match a novice teacher with a skilled veteran, the ``alternative routes'' being blazed by impatient state policymakers, teacher corps-like programs (such as Wendy Kopp's ``Teach for America'' project), and other novel paths to the classroom, oftentimes traversed by people who will spend only a few years there before or after pursuing other career interests.
Goodlad is stuck in the model that says one must prepare as an undergraduate for a lifelong commitment to the teaching profession, that the university is the only legitimate route into that profession, that one learns most of what one needs to know about education from professors, and that the academy is itself the source of change and improvement in education generally and teaching particularly. People who share those assumptions will welcome this book. Those who no longer subscribe to any of them are more apt to find it a learned blast from the past.