ICL invites your reactions and suggestions to leadership issues in education. Note that “Current Issues” will be updated regularly.
We should look at the licensing “pretest” as the foundation for the career-long assessment and continuous improvement we want for teachers. Testing them simply on their own knowledge of content and pedagogy wouldn’t go far enough. We must prepare them, test them, and continuously expect of them the capacity to interpret, intervene, and instruct on a broad – and constantly evolving – array of content and life lessons. With decades of data, researchers have examined these lessons -some recently adding what we’ve come to call 21st century skills – and have spelled out the consequent capacities we can hope to develop in aspiring teachers. Some of these capacities can be objectively pretested – that’s why states require content and pedagogy tests for licensure. Others entail adaptive applications of principles and strategies (such as helping a student manage conflict, solve a problem, communicate an idea) that don’t lend themselves to paper-and-pencil pretests. For these we generally require two things: (1) observations of student teaching and (2) formal lessons in the principles and strategies that are essential for these teaching capacities.
When it’s done right, this should help explain why states and universities require more than you might expect for teaching licensure. Some of the examples your readers shared on September 7 are sad illustrations of silly and arrogant bureaucratic mistakes.
At its most important and reflective level, whether we are talking about higher education or journalism, the issue isn’t cost or, even, productivity in its commodotitized sense. It’s purpose. The purpose of a big chunk of higher education is not to efficiently produce graduates; it’s to transform lives, professions and human culture. For example, our research universities constitute a singular time and place that is set aside for thinking – long, rigorous, challenging, even threatening thinking – before we act. This is essential for purposeful human progress, for scientific growth, for government’s effectiveness, for human development. Otherwise, we just evolve.
The issue shouldn’t be just efficiency, cost or productivity. The issue ought to revolve around affirming a national consensus around the purpose of each of higher education’s subsectors (the publics, the privates, the community colleges, the elite research, the land grants, etc.). We simply cannot let the national discussion go forward along the lines of a business model: if it’s not economically viable, let it close down. At least, collectively, the implications are too important.
So, can we do it differently this time? Every string of commentaries responding to challenges on higher education seems to amount finger-pointing by academia’s many stakeholders, each blaming the other for its weakened position: politicians point to presidents and college professors, presidents point to professors, students or state legislators, faculty point to administrators or preK-12 teachers, and on and on. Can we take this moment of national crises and renewal to focus on the purposes and not the problem of higher education? Can government convene a visionary team? Can professional organizations rise above parochial concerns and shrinking membership dues? Can we steal some great thinkers and doers – some from within institutions that are transformed and other from institutions that are struggling and resisting so the laboratory is authentic – and place them for a period of time in the important work of re-establishing a national consensus around the purposes of America’s higher education community? Otherwise, how do you measure productivity and how do you place a value on cost?