The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Breaking News - April 25, 2002:  California State Senate Education Committee Approves SB 1646 to Reinstate "Education" Majors for Prospective Elementary School Teachers.

In a response to the growing shortage of credentialled elementary school teachers in California, the state senate education committee chaired by Sen. John Vasconcellos has approved SB 1646, which would allow prospective elementary school teachers to major in "elementary education".  If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, this bill would roll back provisions of the Ryan Act, which requires that all credential candidates must have an academic major.

The bill is opposed by many California State University faculty members who currently are involved in teacher preparation programs on the grounds that this change would water down the preparation of prospective teachers.

The Irascible Professor has obtained a copy of a memo from Jean Torcon, Director of the Liberal Studies Program at Cal State Sacramento to Vacsoncellos stating the widely held objections to the bill.

TO: Honorable John Vasconcellos, Chair
Members, Senate Education Committee

FROM: Jean Torcom, PhD
  Professor of Government; Director, Liberal Studies Program, CSU Sacramento

RE:  SB 1646--Concerns

DATE: April 24, 2002

I am speaking today on behalf of many CSU campuses' liberal studies program directors, those faculty, whether in schools of arts and sciences or of education, who are directly responsible for the CTC-approved elementary subject matter programs that prepare future K-8 teachers for California.  We have serious concerns about SB 1646 and regret we have not had an opportunity sooner to share our insights, which come from the trenches of teacher preparation, about adequately preparing future teachers in the subjects they will have to teach -- the math, science, language, history, and so on, so crucial for children to learn.   I know I am permitted very little time to make our case.

· One reason elementary education majors were eliminated by the Ryan Act was to focus attention on the solid subject preparation of teachers, and to steer away from too much focus on the methods of teaching math, say, at the expense of actually knowing math.  As the Provost of the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University pointed out to me, teachers then were often regarded as "well trained, but poorly educated."

· Symbolically, an "education major" does not convey it has powerful academic content in the subject areas that teachers must be prepared in, a mission the Commission on Teacher Credentialing tries to implement.  With all due respect, the term "education major" conveys an idea of a watered-down training program where future teachers are in "special" classes that the rest of the university considers somehow "dumbed down" to a lesser level.  This is not the self-image we want well educated teachers to have.

· Even as things stand now, there is a "tiering" within the education system whereby multiple subject teachers sometimes feel as though they are treated with less respect than single subject teachers, who have a major in the subject they will teach.  This proposal would widen that schism as multiple subject teachers would not have a degree in any subject; they would have a non-academic degree in teaching methods.

· We have worked hard, especially in the last two to three years, pursuing the reforms mandated by SB 2042, to establish meaningful academic programs, specifically tied to K-8 student content standards, whereby students learn a sophisticated body of knowledge that underlies and augments their professional preparation.  Returning to the concept of an education major would take us backward, we believe, as K-8 teachers would have lower professional status. This is not a direction in which the teaching profession wants to move.

· A major concern with the bill as written is also the fact it appears to go beyond current CTC-established standards of program quality for multiple subject credential candidates in that it mandates "each candidate shall have two areas of emphasis that are a part of the adopted course of study commonly taught in grades 1 to 6...."  I am unclear what exactly this is meant to provide and have been unable to get an explanation.  Current, rigorous CTC program standards require one 12-semester unit concentration in an academic area related to the core subjects.  Adding a second area of emphasis would be great in the abstract; it would also lengthen time to degree probably by another semester.

· We also have serious concern with mandating that major programs to prepare teachers be housed in schools of education in the CSU.  First, in the CSU we already have different models of how our programs are run and where they are housed, including some in schools of education, others in schools of humanities, or arts and sciences, or science and math.  There is absolutely no evidence anyone has for saying that one structure is better than another for producing strong programs and strong teacher candidates.  Moreover, mandating our programs be housed in schools of education shifts the focus away from their solid preparation in the subjects they will have to teach.

· Many of our programs have been working very collaboratively between education and arts and sciences faculty and, with the SB 2042 reforms, even greater collaboration is taking place.  Shifting our programs to schools of education irrespective of past practice on a given campus will only serve to undermine that building of cooperation between and among faculty across the campus that is so fruitful for the preparation of solidly educated future teachers.

· We already have a struggle with some of our students who want to be teachers to make them understand they need to know math and science and history to be able effectively to teach math and science and history and language and the arts.  Moving the students away from the discipline departments and into education majors per se will only reinforce that tendency.

· Finally, with all respect Senators, if problematic parts of this proposal such as two areas of emphasis, or where programs are housed, are amended out of the proposal, and fundamentally what is left is the title of education major, then we have not advanced the cause of actually improving what we do by way of preparing good teachers.  We already have undergraduate major programs for students aiming to become K-8 teachers.  All CSU campuses, excepting only the Maritime Academy, have developed blended or integrated programs that combine rigorous study in the subject matter, reflecting the K-8 student content standards, with the pedagogical training of the credential course work.  At CSU Sacramento we call ours the BETEP, the Blended Elementary Teacher Education Program.  At CSU Northridge and CSU Long Beach, it is the Integrated Teacher Education Program.  Moreover, campuses are making significant efforts to reach out to high schools and middle schools with information about these blended programs, to reach out and recruit future teachers.  Whatever the name we have chosen at each campus, we are extremely focused on making these programs succeed and it would be counter-productive to divert attention now, and perhaps confuse our public, to re-creating virtually the same thing with yet another name.

Thank you for your kind attention to these concerns.

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