Another blue ribbon report suitable for shredding
I have on my desk the latest example of a national scourge, the blue ribbon commission report. This one is entitled "Transforming Teacher Education through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers." It was written by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning.
I propose a contest. The winner will get, appropriately enough, a blue ribbon. (I think I have a few crumbled ones in the Christmas wrapping box stuffed under the guest bed of the spare bedroom where I sit at this moment in my third month of working at home.)
To receive this wonderful prize, all you have to do is identify a blue ribbon commission--any temporary assemblage of smart people asked to produce a solution to a great national issue--that brought changes that actually solved the problem.
I don't think that has ever happened. I think the commission approach, a foundation favorite, is designed to turn the sharp ideas of great men and women into mush. Twenty-nine people served on this latest blue ribbon panel. At least nine of them I know and admire. Some of them are vivid writers and speakers who know how to get to the point.
Yet their document--although among the best of a bad breed in the quality of its prose--never really says what they are doing in plain language that might catch the eye.
My rewrite of the report's opening references to "effective teachers for 21st century classrooms" and "new pathways" and teachers "able to own, and fully utilize, the knowledge base of most effective practice" would go like this:
Education schools do a terrible job preparing students to teach where good instructors are most needed. We want to fix that by cutting way back on ed school lectures and giving those students much more time in real classrooms, making mistakes and being corrected by veteran teachers.
I am not dismissing the hard work the panel and its staff devoted to the report. In their world, this is considered progress. They believe that such reports can be used by energetic faculty members to persuade their bosses that a shift in some funding in next year's budget might win some publicity and make it easier to get grants. And might, just might, produce better teachers.
But I don't think change works that way. I would have preferred that NCATE and the foundations who supported the panel took the money they would have spent and used it instead to persuade just one education school to redo its entire program---tear up all the old stuff--and replace it with training that kept teacher candidates in urban classrooms nearly every day.
Maybe I am wrong. If so, readers deserve some idea of what the panel suggested. It offered 10 design principles for a new breed of ed school:
1. Make student learning the focus, including judging new teachers with data.
2. Make sure "clinical preparation is integrated throughout every facet of teacher education in a dynamic way." I would have put it differently (see above) but you get the idea.
3. Use data to judge every part of the program.
4. Prepare teachers who know the content, how to teach it and have good ideas.
5. Make sure the candidates have lots of contact with skilled teachers.
6. Those teaching the teachers should be "rigorously selected" and drawn both from universities and school districts.
7. Have specific schools designated to provide the classroom experience.
8. Use the latest technology.
9. Make sure researchers look carefully at the changes being made, since studies of such reforms have been inadequate.
10. Partner with powerful groups, like teacher unions, to make this work.
All 10 points make sense, in a way. Education leaders and education school deans have been talking about doing all of those things for a long time. That is part of the problem. This report will likely be the subject of many meetings, and conferences, and retreats, and courageous conversations (I don't quite know what that means, but I hear it a lot these days at conferences) and even more blue ribbon panels to figure out what to do to change specific ed schools that have long thought of changing, but haven't really done so.
Stanford education school professor David F. Labaree pointed out to me something I missed: "None of these suggestions is specific enough or restrictive enough to test the harmony of the blue ribbon panel." If the report had a bunch of fiery dissents, that might have gotten us somewhere. But no such luck.
I wish we could junk the blue ribbon commission as an American tradition and replace it with the Blue Ribbon Scary Experiment in Doing Things Differently. The foundations would be required to take at least one proposal from their reject pile every few years that required creating a new kind of ed school, or middle school, or police academy, something. They have to let the creative malcontents who suggested the idea go ahead and do it.
They wouldn't need to waste time and money on their own report. After two or three years, they could invite some journalists--maybe a team of ed bloggers--to check it out and turn its successes and failures into words commonly used in the real world.
That's not going to happen. But the publication of this latest blue ribbon report does have a benefit. All of those usually creative and productive people who sat on the panel no longer have to do so. Many of them, I suspect, are as happy as I am that they are back executing innovations instead of writing about them.
| November 19, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Trends | Tags: 10 design principals, Transforming Teacher Education through Clinical Practice,, blue ribbon panel reports are a national scourge, why not have a Blue Ribbon Scary Experiment in Doing Things Differently
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