SOE News

Barnett Berry imagines the future of university-based teacher education

Critiques of traditional, university-based teacher education are abundant. In a presentation on April 26, 2006, Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill, N.C., cited several of these critiques and proposed action for the future.

The critics claim that “schools of education focus too much on social inequities and not enough on teaching kids to read,” he said. “We provide little help with teacher quality and supply. And we lack evidence to document the value of what we do.”

Further concerns have been expressed in the teacher quality debate of deregulation versus professionalism, Berry noted. Those who favor the deregulation of teaching claim that the certification system is “broken” and that extensive teacher preparation is unnecessary and costly.

Their opponents, who favor professionalism, believe that teachers must know their subject thoroughly and understand how to teach it to their students — the kind of learning that results from extensive preparation such as that provided by university-based teacher education programs.

Additional critiques have been leveled by many others. For example, in the 2006 report, Teaching at Risk: Progress and Potholes, The Teaching Commission claims that the achievement of children in schools is not good enough, partly because universities are not making teacher education rigorous enough.

Against this backdrop, Berry presented extensive data examining the effectiveness of teachers coming from a variety of preparation programs.

In one recent study, the New York Study of Pathways into Teaching, a significant database was established linking thousands of teachers to student outcomes. This study found that student achievement increases as teacher experience increases, for up to four years, Berry noted.

The study further found that different types of teachers had differential success in producing student achievement gains. Those who had been prepared through alternative certification programs produced better student outcomes than those with temporary licenses. However, teachers prepared through traditional university-based teacher education programs produced the best student outcomes.

After four years of teaching, the alternative certification teachers “caught up with” the university-based teachers, Berry said. It is noteworthy to observe, he pointed out, that most of the alternative certification teachers who remained in teaching pursued master’s-level teacher education at traditional university-based programs.

What can schools of education do to shape the future of teacher education? Berry enumerated several aims.

First, he said, “Help build large databases that work.” We [education schools] need to document where our graduates go professionally, how long they remain in their education careers and why. We also need to track the work of our graduates and assess the effectiveness of their work.

Next, we need to build high quality alternative route programs, Berry noted.

In addition, we should use National Board Certified Teachers more vigorously and systematically. Berry reported that data have shown that National Board Certification does make a difference in student outcomes, and teachers with this certification are a valuable but under-utilized resource.

Berry charged the group to use evidence and frame the future debate about how to train teachers. “We’ve got to reframe the conversation, change the vocabulary and lead the debate,” he stated.

Furthermore, he added that we need to do a better job of marketing teacher education, he added. We need to send messages about our work and our programs that invite and inspire people, he said.

In conclusion, Berry emphasized the need to maintain our core values. “We must remember what is most important as we do this work,” he said, “and that is the spirit that we instill in our future teachers and the spirit that they will instill in the kids they will teach.”