Teacher Education Exposed: Evaluation for the Continuous Improvement of Clinical Preparation Programs by Focusing on Integration

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Teacher education seems to continually face its share of critics, perhaps more so than other fields like engineering and nursing. As professional programs, they all share matters of professional standards, accountability (namely via accreditation), and licensure, certification, or registration of their members. Yet, education is the one profession whereby legislatures and laymen alike hold regular judgment of its practitioners and their preparation. Despite many successes, the synecdoche of the single “teacher of the year,” or the single “bad” teacher prevails in shaping public opinion, and unfortunately, policy. These individual cases are often narrow in scope. But, their impact on the profession can be far reaching.

University-based programs prepare a vast majority of the nation’s teaching force. Even still, there is a growing belief that market-based approaches espoused by the proliferation of alternate route programs are essential for improving the profession. Much of the critique of teacher education has to do with its familiarity and its unknowns. Most Americans have spent a significant share of their formative years in schools, day-in-and-out, working with teachers. This level of access makes teaching familiar and vulnerable to scrutiny. Conversely, even new teacher education candidates are innocently blind to the skillful intricacies of masterful teaching. This is particularly true when each purposefully crafted instructional maneuver appears effortless, making each vicissitude seem easy enough for anyone who dares to think he can, able to teach.

This is just one contradiction defining the political landscape of educator preparation that programs must address directly. Like engineering and nursing, teacher preparation is a theory-to-practice based profession, full of complexities. It is incumbent upon the profession to better manage that which is familiar and that which is unknown to the public; thereby recasting the polarizing, synecdoche-driven narrative to one that fully explains continuous improvement and the positive impact of educator preparation. The one area where programing is most visible and open to critique is the clinical experience. Moreover, programs must harness the nature of critique for its own good.

Both higher education professionals (Cochran-Smith, 1991; Musset, 2010; Purpel, 1967) and teacher candidates (Anderson & Stillman, 2013; Evertson, 1990) agree indisputably that the clinical experience is the most important aspect of teacher preparation programs. The clinical experience in its totality consists of early P-12 classroom-based practica culminating with an extended student teaching segment. The experience encompasses those “hands-on,” experiential learning events, whereby teacher candidates “are provided opportunities to test out theory and practice in authentic school settings, to engage in problem solving and to develop their skills, informed by professional competencies” (Easley & Tulowitzki, 2013, p. 756). While no two teacher preparation programs are exactly alike, most states have established a ten-week minimum for student teaching. This premise and time requirement reflect minimally agreed upon standards for clinical experiences.

Heeding the critique for the improvement of teacher preparation, the NCATE Blue Ribbon Commission, the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission, and other groups have been assembled to examine the national status of clinical programming and to develop roadmaps for effectiveness. Any set of national standards, even when supported by research, warrants deeper consideration at the local level. This is particularly sage, as implementation and practice are highly contextualized within each organization’s existing and evolving cultures. It is at this level, where therubber meets the road, that any set of global standards is further tested, hailed for its benefits, criticized for its limitations, and/or personalized during implementation. It is for the last reason that we understand the true merit of any set of standards—finding the means for efficacy among contextualized capacity.

At Eastern Connecticut State University, the Office of Educational and Clinical Experience continually refines clinical practice in light of the national knowledge base, institutional culture, and feedback from regional community members. The iterative process of change has been embraced along with the need for clear guidelines to evaluate program effectiveness on an ongoing basis. In this regard, evaluation is not operationalized for punitive action but for continuous improvement.

Institutional goals along with the availability of existing community-based resources were major influences for the guidelines development. The work of national commissions has also been instructive. And while these guidelines are unique to the needs and values of our institution, we understand that they may also be of benefit to the profession at large. Their core construction focuses on program integration for the cohesion and effectiveness of clinical preparation in teacher education with five central vectors:  Partnerships; Selection and Development of Clinical Faculty; Academic Faculty; Program Pedagogy; and Evidentiary Practice.

Guidelines for the Evaluation of Clinical Preparation Programs in Teacher Education:
A Focus on Program Integration

Partnerships (consisting of mutually-developed, goals-oriented programming among two or more participating agents) may include school districts, preparation programs, teachers’ unions, state policy makers, and other agencies committed to teacher development.

  • Partnerships are mutually constructed.
  • Partnerships focus on teacher effectiveness and high quality, seamless supports for teacher effectiveness.
  • Partnerships seek to remove barriers for teacher effectiveness.

Selection and Development of Clinical Faculty focuses on all individuals who directly supervise and/or evaluate future teachers during clinical programming.

  • S & D demonstrates evidence of clinical faculty’s understanding of the candidate development cycle, drawing on adult learning theory.
  • S & D demonstrates evidence of clinical faculty’s ability to positively impact the development and learning of teacher candidates.
  • S & D ensures the composition of clinical faculty is diverse and adequate for supporting cultural competency development among candidates.
  • S & D demonstrates evidence of routine opportunities for clinical faculty to collaborate around targeted issues and concerns regarding teacher candidates’ individual and collective development, as well as their own professional development as clinical faculty.

Academic Faculty consist of teacher preparation faculty, including those in Arts and Sciences, who are typically not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of clinical practice.

  • Academic faculty make deliberate connections that bridge content and theory into practice during coursework.
  • Academic faculty are provided data on candidate performance during clinical practice to refine teaching and academic programming.
  • Academic and clinical faculty meet routinely to ensure seamless and developmentally progressive integration of theory, content, and clinical practice.
  • Academic curricula are aligned with national and state standards regarding content knowledge within respective teacher education disciplines.

Program Pedagogy refers to teaching and learning practices within the teacher education program that focus on future teachers’ effectiveness for positively impacting learning and development among diverse P-12 learners and the school communities in which they work.

  • Clinical faculty and candidates mutually employ evidentiary and inquiry based approaches to learning, whereby practice and outcomes are the sources for generating questions for continuous improvement. Systematic processes are used to investigate inquiry-based questions. The results are documented and reflected upon individually and collaboratively.
  • Theory and content knowledge from academic coursework are seamlessly integrated into clinical practice. Clinical practice is employed throughout the academic program of study to reflect candidates’ progressive development.
  • Clinical pedagogy is based on national standards and models of excellence that demonstrate a positive impact on P-12 student learning and development, academic programming, and partnership programming.

Evidentiary Practice defines the intentionality of the teacher preparation program to meet its goals (aligned with state and national norms), to demonstrate teacher candidate effectiveness, as well as a positive impact on the profession of teacher preparation.

  • Practice is based on sound and reliable evidence that candidates are able to support the learning and development of P-12 students (including students of diverse abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, linguistic backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds). The results are documented and reported for decision-making.
  • Clear goals for candidate learning and program effectiveness are developed annually with clear targets.
  • Practice generates evidence that program outcomes (based on goals) are reviewed with partners, clinical faculty, academic faculty, and candidates/alumni. The outcomes are used for further goal setting and the development of strategies to meet goals.
  • Practice is informed by national trends of excellence and peer-reviewed research on clinical programs, and findings are shared and discussed with stakeholders for decision-making toward program improvement.

The last tenet of evidentiary practice takes us full circle by embracing the need to recast the oversimplified binary of the “good teacher, bad teacher” synecdoche by making the profession and its programing transparent. This tenant calls for programs to routinely disseminate effectiveness and continuous improvement reports to internal and external stakeholders for public accountability and commentary.

 

References

Anderson, L. M., & Stillman, J. A. (2013). Student teaching’s contribution to preservice teacher development: A review of research focused on the preparation of teachers for urban and high-needs contexts. Review of Educational Research83(1), 3-69.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1991). Reinventing student teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 42(2), 104-118.

Easley, J. & Tulowitzki, P. (2013). Policy formation of intercultural and globally minded educational leadership preparation. International Journal of Educational Management, 27(7), 744-761.

Evertson, C. M. (1990). Bridging knowledge and action through clinical experience. In D. D. Dill (Ed.), What teachers need to know (pp 94-109). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Musset, P. (2010). Initial teacher education and continuing training policies in a comparative perspective: Current practices in OECD countries and a literature review on potential effects. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 48. OECD Publishing.

Purpel, D. E. (1967) Student teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 18(1), 20-23.

 

Authors: Jacob Easley II, Dean, School of Education and Professional Studies/Graduate Division easleyj@easternct.edu and Mary-Grace Shifrin, Coordinator of Educational and Clinical Experiences at Eastern Connecticut State University shifrinm@easternct.edu.