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Discussion of Alternative Teacher Training Programs Would Benefit from Careful Analysis of Current Programs, Says Education Dean

Release Date: April 21, 2010

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Mary Gresham, dean of the UB Graduate School of Education, says additional analysis is needed in the debate over alternative teacher training programs.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education Dean Mary H. Gresham said today that critics of universities that train teachers shouldn't assume that schools of education are the reason for poor student achievement in our nation's elementary and secondary schools.

Instead, she said that critics would help students more by launching a careful examination of these programs' strengths and weaknesses.

At issue is Tuesday's vote by the New York State Board of Regents approving a pilot program that would allow so-called alternative teacher-training organizations to create their own master's degree programs, which students must finish before they are certified as teachers. Master's degree programs have traditionally been reserved for education schools at colleges and universities.

"As several other experts have noted," Gresham says, "to blame schools of education for the failure of public education is as untenable as blaming schools of management for the sins of Wall Street.

"Rather than make sweeping pronouncements that are critical of teacher preparation, as if each school of education is the same, it would be extremely useful for policy-makers to actually find out what we are doing to prepare teachers," Gresham says.

Critics are trying to expand the reach of alternative programs such as Teach for America, which puts recent college graduates into teaching jobs without previous teaching experience or education coursework, often in some of the country's toughest schools. Teach for America has recently announced its intention to begin its own master's degree program to train prospective teachers.

The unanimously approved Regents pilot will invite groups such as Teach for America to create their own master's programs. The programs would require a strong emphasis on practical teaching skills, addressing criticism that traditional education schools spend unnecessary time on theory, rather than preparing students better for their real-life challenges in the classroom.

Gresham points out that many critics of public education belittle schools of education at colleges and universities often without understanding the university curriculum.

"Most schools of education have clinically rich programs that require both theoretical and applied experiences and proficiencies before granting a teaching credential, because we believe that there is no substitute for the classroom experience," Gresham says.

In addition, she says, critics who hold traditional schools of education responsible for the failures of student achievement in grades K through 12 are overlooking many factors that contribute to poor student achievement.

"While teacher quality is a necessary condition for student achievement, to focus solely on teacher preparation is to ignore the ecological realities that must be dealt with in order to create conditions for student success," Gresham says. "There are multiple reasons for the failures of public education. Graduate study for educators deepens the knowledge base that is critical for teachers who must manage a complex environment."

Gresham and others from UB's Graduate School of Education are available for interviews regarding this week's New York State Board of Regents' vote.

UB's Graduate School of Education recently moved up 15 spots to No. 56 in U.S. News and World Report magazine survey, putting UB in the top 20 percent of all schools of education ranked in the survey.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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anzalon@buffalo.edu