Over the course of my almost 30 years in higher education, teacher education has been under the microscope. One complaint that continuously arises is the lack of rigor and specific content knowledge that pre-service teachers learn during their college experience.
Recently, former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan chastised all colleges of education for having lower standards than other colleges. We have taken this criticism to heart and have looked at how rigorous our courses and experiences are for our students and how we can improve.
Allow me to share a few findings on the rigor our students face, drawn from our internal monitoring as well as national accreditors including the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education:
1. We recruit and retain some of the brightest students in the state — with students in our highly competitive Teaching Fellows program averaging a 4.37 GPA and an SAT of more than 1,100. These students could complete any degree program that South Carolina offers. But we should all be thankful that they are part of our teacher education programs.
2. All of our elementary-methods courses are taught in public schools with embedded field experiences, which allow our students to interact with elementary students alongside master teachers. This builds understanding about real children in real classrooms and the deep content knowledge needed to be successful.
3. We initiated an early childhood urban cohort, which focuses on the needs of children in urban schools and preparing teacher candidates to work with them. We recognize that we must do more to provide diverse experiences for our students, and through this program we engage our students not only with students and their parents, but also with the communities in which these students live.
4. All of our middle-level majors have strong content backgrounds in two areas of focus. Unlike many middle-grades programs, we believe that content knowledge is an essential component of how we prepare these majors. We rely on our colleagues across campus to provide rigorous, in-depth study in these subject areas. Our graduates are well-prepared to provide powerful, integrated instruction to middle-level learners through their two-subject-area preparation.
5. In order for students to graduate from the university and become secondary teachers, they must have earned a discipline-based undergraduate degree from another college. They must then earn a master’s degree in education, which includes rigorous field experiences in our partner schools and prepares them for teaching. As with our middle-level students, we rely on our colleagues across our campus to engage the students in a rigorous study of their chosen content fields.
Although the myth persists that education is an easy “A,” our students actually take more courses outside of the college than many academic programs on campus. For example, for elementary-education majors, 50 percent of their courses are outside of our college — five of them are in-depth content preparation.
We believe that with our partners on campus and in the community, we provide an education that develops the skills and knowledge every teacher needs to perform at the highest levels. Through continuous self-examination and external accreditation processes, we consistently refine and consider how to build more rigorous and impactful teacher-preparation programs for our students.
Dr. Pedersen is in his first semester as dean of the USC College of Education; contact him at email@example.com.