Originally created 05/04/01

Cooper,: Quick-fix approach wrong for Georgia schools



The Chronicle's April 29 editorial endorsement of "Teach for Georgia" concerns me because of what I perceive to be its misunderstanding of university-based teacher preparation.

I chair the department of teacher development at Augusta State University. This department, in collaboration with arts and sciences at the university and our public school partners, is responsible for most teacher certification programs at ASU.

Our programs are regulated by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

In recent years, all of these agencies have raised the standards and expanded the requirements for teacher preparation, including more extensive subject-matter study, additional field experiences prior to certification and higher scores on the standardized teacher certification tests (PRAXIS I and PRAXIS II) in Georgia.

The teacher preparation programs at Augusta State meet these standards by requiring extensive subject-matter preparation. In the early childhood program, students concentrate in mathematics and language artsreading. In the middle grade program, students complete concentrations in two of the four core subject areas: language arts, mathematics, science, social studies. In the secondary and K-12 fields, students complete a full major.

In conjunction with their course work, students complete the equivalent of one full year of structured field experiences under the supervision of approved lab and master teachers in the professional development school network.

This "on-the-job" preparation never puts youngsters at risk of being assigned to an unsupervised pre-certified teacher. Our students and faculty spend more than a third of each semester's course work in the field - in real classrooms with real students in real time. Our students complete a 15-week full time, supervised student-teaching apprenticeship as well.

WHEN INDIVIDUALS come to ASU with a baccalaureate degree in hand, their transcripts are evaluated for work that will apply toward certification. Their preparation program requirements are appropriately tailored to take prior accomplishment into account. For many of these individuals, certification preparation can be completed in less than two years.

All students have to pass the PRAXIS I exam at or above the cut score set by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission prior to being admitted to the certification programs.

They are not recommended for certification until they successfully pass the appropriate PRAXIS II examination, with scores at or above those set by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. These requirements and standards are intended to assure the public of the quality and competence of its teaching force.

At ASU we expect students to understand why they are employing strategies and approaches to teaching and we expect them to be able to explain their teaching to parents, principals and colleagues. We also expect them to be able to change what they are doing when they see it is not helping students achieve.

If all of this is "theorizing about teaching in a university ivory tower," then so be it. We believe that for each and every child, their school experiences will have life-long effects. We don't believe even a single year of that experience should be sacrificed to somebody's "on the job training" following a four-week crash course.

THE PROBLEMS identified in the April 29 editorial that contribute to the current teacher shortage will not be solved by Teach for Georgia or any other quick-fix solution. Indeed the problems noted in the editorial are not about teacher preparation, they are about working conditions and the status of teaching as a profession.

We need to get on with directly addressing these problems rather than creating additional problems with shortcut, quality-challenged alternative teacher preparation.

(Editor's note: The writer is a professor and chair of the department of teacher development in the college of education at Augusta State University.)