The No Child Left Behind Act and its requirements for “highly qualified” teachers and 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2014 have focused attention on the need to improve teacher quality. However, “many stakeholders concede that traditional teacher preparation and in-service training have failed to produce the level of quality demanded by the new educational environment,” according to Preparing and Training Professionals: Comparing Education to Six Other Fields. This new report from the Finance Project, a nonprofit policy research organization whose mission is to support decision making that produces and sustains good results for children, families, and communities, compares professional development-both preservice and in-service-in education to six other professions: law, accounting, architecture, nursing, firefighting, and law enforcement.
“The education field is not alone in its quest for quality,” the report reads. “Information about how other fields prepare and train professionals can help advance efforts to tap the potential of professional development to improve teacher quality and strengthen the education system.”
When examining “on the job” training, the report notes that student teaching is required before licensure, but says that student teachers often give their experience a falling grade, calling it “limited, inconsistent, and disconnected from coursework.” It suggests that the education field should study the “more intensive and highly structured programs used by nursing and architecture” to inform efforts to make the student teaching experience more valuable.
In architecture, for example, prospective architects must obtain their college degree and then complete a field internship under the direct supervision of a registered architect. They must also successfully complete a nine-part examination. New nurses must participate in an orientation process that includes a mentoring component from a veteran nurse. “Orientations include an introduction to both agency policies and procedures, a possible overview of hospital politics, and a review of skills, which is sometimes accompanied by a final examination,” the report reads.
In Tapping the Potential, the Alliance for Excellent Education wrote that placing new teachers in the most challenging classrooms without comprehensive induction-and expecting them to perform like experienced teachers-is like putting newly licensed drivers behind the wheel in a NASCAR race. Despite the added challenges that come with teaching children and adolescents with higher needs, most beginning teachers are given no professional support, feedback, or demonstration of what it takes to help their students succeed. The result is that new teachers are most at risk of leaving the teaching profession. In fact, 14 percent of new teachers leave by the end of their first year, and almost 50 percent leave in five years.
Compare the plight of new teachers with their counterparts in other professions: according to Preparing and Training Professionals, “clinical experiences and induction programs in education are less structured and less consistently supervised than those in some other fields.” It notes that novice firefighters, police, and nurses all complete formal orientation or induction programs to prepare them for the demanding situations they will face. “Since research shows that quality induction programs can prepare teachers and reduce turnover, examining universally required programs in other fields could provide valuable models,” the report reads.
The report also notes several instances in which the teaching profession is alone in its methodology. While many of the other fields require a passing score on a national exam, the education field “has long resisted a national teacher assessment and continues to rely on varied state standards for licensure.” Education also “stands alone” in allowing professionals to practice independently before they are licensed. In the legal world, law school graduates must pass a state bar before practicing law, and in accounting, certified public accountants must sit for the CPA exam. Finally, education is the only field of the seven that requires its managers-principals and superintendents-to obtain a separate licensure before assuming a management role.
The report did note several instances where the education field was working to align its professional development practices more closely to other professions. For example, educators are increasingly looking for ways to provide and expand opportunities for teacher collaboration, common planning time, peer learning, and teamwork. In law, accounting, and architecture, networking and professional associations are “critical tools for business and professional development while police and firefighters place a premium on peer support and team building.”
The complete report is available at http://www.financeprojectinfo.org/publications/preparingprofessionals.pdf.