J. W. Anderson's "Uneducated Teachers" (op-ed, Dec. 13) deserves a response. Such indictments of teacher education should be factual--a characteristic Anderson has avoided in referring to George Mason University. Many schools, colleges and departments of education differ considerably from the picture that Anderson sketches, and at George Mason the education department is certainly different.
Anderson praises the Northern Virginia Writing Project and then alleges that the English and education departments "seem to be working at cross-purposes." The Writing Project he lauds was founded in 1978, with the chairman of the education department serving as co-director. The project currently has a professor of education co-directing it with two members of the English department. The departments are partners. Anderson expresses disdain for one educational psychology textbook because it recommends an alternative experience to a writing assignment. He seems to be suggesting that written reports are the only valid means of expressing thought.
He also indicts the aptitude of the students entering education programs. In fact, the Scholastic Aptitude Test average score of students who enter George Mason's education program is higher than the national average of education majors, and the student seeking to become a teacher meets the same standards as others applying to the university. The average score of the last two years for freshmen entering education degree and certification programs at George Mason was 50 points higher than the national average for all freshmen.
George Mason's undergraduate degree programs in elementary and early childhood education require majors to complete a compulsory two-year curriculum of courses in the college of arts and sciences consisting of mathematics; English composition; physical, chemical, and biological sciences; literature; history; economics; communications; either foreign language or regional cultures; art and music. If the student completes the curriculum with a B-minus or better grade point average, entry into the professional education program for the last two years is possible--but not guaranteed. A strong general education program, as well as an equally rigorous professional education program, is maintained. School divisions judge recent graduates to be well educated and skillful practitioners.
Once admitted to a teacher education program, students progress through a curriculum that emphasizes theory into practice, with "field experiences" in schools being required as a component of most courses, and with an entire semester of full-time practice teaching making up the final period. And the secondary English teacher-to-be does not get a degree in education, but in English. Moreover, this student is required to do more course work in the English department than those not seeking state certification. The additional education requirements are a semester of practice teaching and five courses in the education department.
There are poor education schools, and they should be either reformed or terminated. There are also excellent education schools, and these should continue to prepare competent teachers. This nation is going to have an elementary teacher shortage soon, and on that point Anderson has his facts straight. We already have a need for mathematics and science teachers for the secondary schools, a deficiency that promises to increase given the more lucrative options available to mathematics and science majors.
Will school divisions pay beginning teachers salaries competitive with business? Will state boards of education require assessment for licensing that better ensures teacher competence? Will standards for schools preparing beginning teachers be high? Will schools be willing and able to differentiate salaries in accordance with teacher effectiveness? And will critics of departments of education be able to refrain from generalizing based on limited data? I hope that the answer to all of these questions is yes, but the tempo of response is probably not going to be fast enough for many.