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Spring 2004
Beyond Rhetoric
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GRADUATE EDUCATION STUDENTS such as MacDonald say they chose UCLA for its emphasis on educational equity in urban schools, its strong support network and solid grounding in education theory and research. But while they may appreciate the academic study of teaching methods, not everyone is convinced it's the best way to prepare teachers.

Some reports have suggested that there is no reliable link between pedagogical training and classroom success. In 1999, for example, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an educational-research advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., argued in a policy statement that it is more important for teachers to earn college degrees in the subjects they wish to teach and that state certification standards and education-school curricula actually deter potential teaching candidates.

"Traditional training programs should be closely scrutinized for their length, cost, burden and value," the report states. "Is a two-year time commitment really necessary, for example?"

One organization frequently cited as a successful alternative to traditional teacher-preparation programs is Teach for America. Launched in 1990 with a grounding in a national-service ethic, Teach for America recruits liberal-arts graduates from colleges, trains them for five weeks and places them exclusively in low-income urban and rural schools in 20 regions across the country; a minimum two-year teaching commitment is required. Teach for America, which recently recruited on the UCLA campus, reports that more than 10,000 people have participated nationwide.

"The popularity of programs such as Teach for America ... indicates that the prospect of teaching without first being obliged to spend years in pedagogical study appeals to some of our brightest college graduates," states the Teaching Commission — a panel of leaders in government, business, philanthropy and education — in its January 2004 report "Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action." Unlike the Fordham Foundation, however, the Teaching Commission urges states to raise teacher-certification standards and universities to bolster admission and academic requirements for teacher-preparation programs.

Metcalfe says the push for such programs as Teach for America and efforts to loosen teacher-education and certification standards are born of concern that the education system is failing students. "There's a tremendous frustration right now that things don't seem to be any better," Metcalfe says.

One major question is what exactly constitutes a qualified teacher, says Lauren Jones Young, director of institutional initiatives for the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation, which investigates ways in which education can be improved around the world. "And how exactly do you develop those qualities in an individual?" she asks.

The foundation has awarded grants to UCLA and other universities to support the development of education researchers. "One of the challenges to the profession is developing richer evidence about how to prepare teachers who can foster learning among the linguistic and culturally diverse students who make up today's classrooms," Young says.

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