Monday, May 21, 2012

Deborah Ball says teacher education integral to successful education reform

Tags: ball, digital signage, educational studies, policy, professional development, teacher education, teachingworks

On May 18, 2012, Deborah Ball addressed the annual convention of the Education Writers Association, discussing our redesign of our teacher education programs and the need for similar redevelopment at the national level. Her presentation was the topic of an article on the MLive website.

The key here, said Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of University of Michigan's School of Education, is that "great teachers are made, not born."

In professions such as medicine, "it would not be permissible to allow someone whose only qualifications are enthusiasm and a desire to do the work" to largely learn their craft "on their own and on the job," Ball said.

Yet "our idea of how beginning teacher should learn is to practice on real children," she said.

Ball is putting her ideas on teacher training into practice at Michigan, and education majors who graduated from U-M this spring are the first to have gone through the complete revamp of the program.

That means would-be teachers are spending a considerable amount of time learning specific instructional and classroom management techniques, she said. Then students practice those techniques in front of classmates and in simulated settings, eventually moving to work in classrooms, where they are closely monitored and coached.

"Basically, we no longer graduate people based on grades in courses," Ball said. "They have pass performance assessments."

Ball also has changed the incentives for her faculty by promoting the work of those who coach and mentor undergraduates in K-12 classrooms. Under the old system, she said, a professor who taught a small graduate seminar was considered to have the same workload as the person who coached student teachers, although the latter was far more work intensive.

Ball said that deans of Michigan's other education schools are talking more about a systemic overhaul of their programs. "There's lot of interest in Michigan about making change and to be more collaborative" so that each program isn't re-inventing the wheel, Ball said.

The reforms need to go beyond schools of education to the K-12 system as a whole, she added.

She said the U.S. education system needs to do a much better job of "identifying the core capabilities" of what makes a great teacher; providing coaching, mentoring and support to teachers to develop those capabilities, and developing assessments to test the skills of would-be teachers before they are put into a classroom on their own.

"If we did that," she said, "we'd be having a much conversation five, 10 years from now" on the teaching profession and U.S. education reform.


Deborah Loewenberg Ball is the William H. Payne Collegiate Chair, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and dean of the School of Education.

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