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Professor speaks about teacher education

Carolina Wilson | Monday, February 20, 2012

With education reform emerging as a hot-button issue among the American public, Suzanne Wilson, university distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, outlined her research on developing measures for tracking learning in teacher education programs during a lecture at the Eck Visitor Center on Monday.


In “Teacher Preparation in an Era of Reform,” Wilson discussed the essentials of teacher education, the current American position on this topic and the ways in which her research could impact teacher reform.


“[My research] could be a revolution in how we think about teacher education problems,” she said.


Wilson said her biggest question regarding teacher education reform concerns the current status of the issue in terms of its larger historical context, asking whether or not we are at a “historical moment” in the history of education in America.


Wilson spoke about three current themes in the dialogue about education reform: equity and equality, efficiency and effectiveness.


Regarding equity and equality, Wilson said it is our nation’s duty to provide its children with equal educational opportunities.


“This is the promise we made as a nation, as the world’s leading democracy, giving all of our children in our country an equal education,” she said.


Wilson said this theme is the “center” of all discourse regarding education reform, and it constantly raises questions about the relative level of equality in our educational system.


According to Wilson, efficiency can be measured by a teacher’s “added value,” a new concept in education reform that refers to whether or not a student would be more successful in school based on the efficiency of his or her current teacher.


Wilson equated the final theme of effectiveness to the “discourse of accountability.” Critics of the education system frequently point to the ineffectiveness of current teacher preparation methods, but Wilson said those critics should ask better questions and “fight for better programs.”


These improved programs, or “alternate routes,” are already in place in some school systems and include residency programs and other routes for people of color and male teachers to diversify the teaching work force, she said.


Wilson added she believes change in the educational reform for teachers is a positive one, but cited universities as being “extremely slow and getting in the way of change” in terms of teacher education reform.


One hindrance to progress is the disproportionate focus on ranking individual teachers, rather than making comparisons within teacher education programs themselves, Wilson said.


“We create standards. We create scoring rubrics. We rank ourselves. Everyone wants to be number one,” she said.


In lieu of grading systems, Wilson suggested a new approach to teacher education reform based on the pragmatism of Frederick Taylor, encouraging leadership through practice rather than knowledge alone.


To conclude the lecture, Wilson said teacher education programs must renew their focus on instructing teachers in how to teach their students.


“We haven’t spent enough time studying what it takes to help somebody learn something,” she said.