Reinventing Ed School 1: What courses?

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about today’s Ed Schools.  Change from within.  Change from without.  

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you were creating a brand new Ed School from scratch.  What would you do?  

I’ll ask 4 questions over the next 4 days: about ed school classes, student teaching, coaching dosage/style, exit standards.  Chime in below.  

Today: Ed School Classes.

Let’s assume, at least in some form, your new Ed School would still have 5 to 10 “classes” to get an education degree.  Let’s call it 6 core courses, like many masters programs require.  

Here’s a typical 6 from different colleges: 

Education and Society

Adolescent psychology 

Inclusion stratgeies


Curriculum Design


What would you nix?  What would you add instead?  Or is there a course that you’d keep, but teach in a radically different way?  One of my ideas in the comments below.  

~ Guestblogger Mike Goldstein

29 Replies to “Reinventing Ed School 1: What courses?”

  1. One course I’d change: in lieu of the psychology class, I’d require a
    very nuts and bolts class on specific communication with parents and
    kids. I think it’s “applied teacher psychology.”

    How to enlist parents and kids, and how not to. How and why to make
    frequent phone calls home. Lots of video case studies, particularly of successful and flailing first and second year teachers.

    Panels of parents describing their teacher interactions; same with kids.
    Tons of role play. Highly prescriptive “Do this — now let’s practice
    it, now let’s practice again, now one more time” coaching.

    Lots of situational advice: various types of failing kids, misbehaving kids,
    high buy-in parents, low buy-in parents, non-parent families. Why and
    how to make short praise phone calls and text messages. How to build
    relationship capital and trust — so you can spend it down to drive
    greater student effort.

  2. I don’t think I’d be half so interested in changing the classes as in changing the structure of the program. (Full disclosure: I taught for five years, but have never taken an education class.) It seems like the most useful thing people do is the student teaching; however, full-time first-year teaching is so overwhelming it doesn’t give you the chance to reflect, apply any lessons you’ve learned, etc.

    So my initial coursework phase (which might only take a summer) would be very nuts-and-bolts stuff: how do I construct a lesson plan? What do school policies typically look like, and what do I need to know about compliance/legal issues? What are strategies I can use for discipline in my target age group? How do I build a productive relationship with parents, and how do I handle irate or crazy ones? Stuff like that. Stuff you *use*.

    The only standard class that I generally think is on the right track is some sort of content-specific methods course; the ways you think about a subject to *learn* it and *teach* it can be genuinely different, and having a toolbox of examples geared for novices, grounding in common misconceptions, etc. is useful.

    The student teaching (in a “teaching school”, like teaching hospitals) would take place over the course of a year and would be no more than a half-time load, to give students time to plan and reflect. The student teachers would meet in a regular (weekly?) seminar to discuss issues that came up and provide mutual support; the facilitator would assign theory readings relevant to the issues the student teachers were facing. Any other theory classes in the program would take place over the course of this year, where they could be compared against and used to support practice (and students would have substantial choice in what they took, to support the directions teaching was taking their thoughts & passions). These would also help students develop the habit of keeping up on the research and regularly using it to support practice; the research/practice divide in teaching is really astonishing to me.

  3. I find it odd that an article about Reinventing Ed School posted through a blog site would not include a course for new teachers on utilizing social networking in the classroom 🙂

  4. As a Teach For America alum, I appreciated the focus of our curriculum on teaching as a form of leadership. In other words, the belief that I am the instructional leader in my classroom and that I have ultimate ability to impact student achievement through a focus on goals and high quality instruction. I have found that too many teachers focus on external factors in the classroom which in turn limits the impact that they believe they can have (e.g. “I planned a really great lesson today, but the kids were crazy”). Now for teachers that don’t believe their students can actually learn, they should find another occupation because indeed they won’t. But to the extent that we can “teach” this personal responsibility, we should incorporate it into ed school curriculum.

  5. I will add my voice to some of the earlier posters and stress the need for more nuts and bolts–the tools the beginning teacher needs. I might nix psychology or nix “education and society” and work those topics into other courses.

    I know that from reflecting on my grad school / teacher training experiences; I needed more “nuts and bolts.” New teachers need to be exposed to more innovative ways to assess, manage, and innovate. They need less “history of education” and less abstract theories of learning. Our educational colleges should be more about helping the teacher find their way through the first few years; I think that if the teacher is truly dedicated to the cause, they will learn most of the other stuff as they journey through their career.

  6. I want to echo Jonathon’s comment. While I was never in TFA, I have read all their training manuals. They’re quite good.

    And per the other comments, they try to distill what’s been published into “nuts and bolts,” actionable topics.

  7. How about learning what you are going to teach? Is it just assumed that you already have the knowledge you need because you graduated from high school? I’d love to see teacher training as an add-on — first you have to get a degree in something other than education — then you can get CHOSEN for specific training to get certified to teach. This is what TFA does, isn’t it? I would think it shouldn’t take more than a semester.

  8. Jonathon’s comment is thought-provoking. In their frenzy to reverse “deficit thinking,” ed school courses such as the “education and society” course subtly suggest that in fact some kids CAN’T be expected to learn because of their “social context.” We should also keep in mind that most of the consumers of ed school curriculum are hardly older than the students who we expect them to shepherd out of poverty after four years. Jonathon’s comment reminds us that young people who pursue teaching are hardly seasoned adults with well-defined values and a clear self-concept. During their teacher prep days, they must be constantly encouraged and emboldened to resolutely believe that 1) they CAN make a difference and 2) that difference is made THROUGH EFFECTIVE INSTRUCTION.

  9. Before picking courses, can we reach some consensus about the knowledge and skills teachers need to be successful in the classroom. If we had a common set of teacher standards, then each ed school could create its own classes, so long as they collectively addressed all of the teacher standards. Then discussion might focus on which order to teach standards, or to what depth each standard needs to be addressed.

  10. Having recovered from my attack of snark, let me add that a lot depends on the grade level. Take psychology as an example. Good exposure to child development is important for K-3 and even K-8 teachers. For high school teachers, of course some knowledge of adolescent psychology would be helpful, but mostly for addressing the needs of school-resistant students and other outliers; most high school students should have reached the stage of being able to adapt themselves to different teaching styles.

    Likewise, future Middle School and High School teachers have a lot of content to master before they can address curriculum design and instructional methods; K-3 teachers, though I agree that they should have an academic major, do need to spend more time on learning the theory and practice of how to make sure their students master the basic building block skills — reading, basic math, beginning writing, etc. The Masters degrees that many elementary school teachers pursue (in Elemtary Ed., Reading, etc) don’t seem to make them better teachers according to the research I’ve seen referenced, but neither does it seem important for them to gain special expertise in academic subject areas.

    Education and Society? that can be given a good introduction in an engaging 90 minute presentation by a panel of experts of varying points of view. Inclusion? the syllabus you linked to is clearly aimed at getting future teachers to accept children with disabilities in their classrooms, on principle (a good thing, if carried out on a case-by-case basis) but would clearly not be enough to provide the teacher with the knowledge s/he would need to make it work for many of those individual children. Literacy? that course, about adolescents and adults, looks more like an argument for considering all of our media environment as equally legitimate sources of information and a scheme for negotiating the breaks between types of media and different cultures. Most wouldn’t argue, but since it seems to be the printed word that most children and adolescents struggle to master, that course seems like a non-essential. Couldn’t tell at all what the “Methods” course would amount to.

  11. I assume the Curriculum class includes coursework on Assessment. However, assessment deserves a course of its own, albeit one that is geared toward the level and discipline that a teacher will be going into.

  12. I’d like to see an education class on effective strategies for lobbying to get smaller class sizes, larger teacher salaries, lowered barriers to access for students, and physical plant improvement. What, it makes too much sense? It’s gauche talking so frankly about politics and money and the issues we all agree are most important? Ignore the big problems at your peril, education curriculum designers, and you just might fluff yourself out of a job.

  13. These all would be useful MA courses for the developing teacher to gain some new insights and additional strategies to bring back to the classroom, but not as an initial stopgap before beginning teaching. Echoing other comments here, the nuts and bolts could be targeted in a summer’s breadth, with ongoing mentoring throughout the first year to help connect theory to practice and enforce the planning-teaching-reflection cycle. It works fine for TFA (and did for me).

    When we talk about Ed schools, we have to understand that the purpose of the coursework is centered on attaining knowledge, the skills to implement such knowledge coming in at a distant second. This will be the case for most Ed schools that can be envisioned. It’s only possible to learn how to teach when we’re surrounded by 20-30 kids in an authentic classroom who are naturally assessing our abilities every single minute of class. The students themselves are a tougher assessment process than any other test or term paper imaginable.

  14. I love the question because I don’t see people talking about reinventing much because the whole debate for Ed schools if focused on circumventing them. So thanks for that.
    I’d like to see all candidates tested for content knowledge so that a customized curriculum can be put together regarding building expertise in the content area and then a sequence of content pedagogy courses (probably 2-3 over two years alongside a clinical experience).
    I’d also like to see a short TFA-like, nuts and bolts/just-in-time summer component for everyone who gains admission. Then a full-time clinical experience over the school year with four interns with a master teacher fully responsible for a class of students.
    Like the currently touted residency programs, I’d do coursework that runs alongside the clinical perhaps one day a week that focuses on the following areas: Curriculum development, planning, and assessment, Child/adolescent development (so psychology), Differentiation strategies (incl Special Education theory/practice), Context of schooling (cultural issues + historical and policy stuff). The first summer would be for enrichment OR for those who need more content knowledge/content pedagogy based on their assessment results. Then a portfolio/performance assessment process used as gateway to being a full teacher of record. For those unable to meet the portfolio standard, they cycle back in and have several more opportunities to take the assessment but also they can access the content offered in the 1st year of coursework in a more expanded format. For those who pass the assessment and achieve teacher of record status, they would remain in cohorts focused on self reflection and collegial work projects and have access to more specialized coursework at the Ed School, e.g. Brain development, school leadership, even deeper content pedagogical stuff, technology, or whatever garners interest.
    This cycle could be offered to undergraduates in their junior or senior year OR it could be a master’s level track.

  15. While content competency and knowledge of a range of differentiated assessment strategies are indeed critical to success in the classroom, I do think that 90% of that “course work” could be learned through an apprenticeship supported by distance learning (good point there, Jeremiah).

    Having completed the BA or BS in the chosen subject area, most teachers could spend the summer (nice idea, Andromeda) in an intense professional development program, and then be apprenticed the following year to a local school, supported by on-line dialogue spaces guided by “master teachers” or “EDs.” As they would be apprentices, rather than lead teachers, this SHOULD be a workable balance (if not, they’re probably not going to make very good lead teachers!). During the course of the year, they’d learn the “nuts and bolts psychology” issues and have a range of lesson plans to offer as samples for a graduate portfolio. Teachers could be certified at the end of that year, or could opt for a second year apprenticeship to improve upon their portfolio, address a specific research question that arose during their first year, and then earn the MAT.

    Of course, this would introduce some very bizarre funding issues (who’s paying when the schools and student teachers are both benefiting) and probably the end of “bricks and mortar” Ed Schools as we know them, so there would probably be a lot of resistance. However, if Ed Schools got involved in the school turn-around movement by adopting local schools as lab schools (and “selling” their physical spaces back to their universities in exchange), it might be a win-win.

  16. Mike-

    Glad to see you tackling this issue.

    I’d like to see the focus on the practicum (i.e. student-teaching), with a 2-year (+ 1 summer) apprenticeship model in real schools with real kids. The practicum would necessarily include ongoing Action Research on impact of instructional strategies on student achievement. In the one overlapping summer, and perhaps in evenings/weekends or even after-school on-site, I think the only traditional “classes” required would be:

    1. I would get rid of most of the “theory” stuff (i.e. Education and Society, Psychology), except that which relates to the pedagogy of the subject(s) to be taught. Elementary teachers would get a round-robin of pedagogical methods from the 4 core subjects, while secondary teachers would dive deep in their disciplines.

    2. Using Formative Assessment to guide instruction in the classroom. Absolutely essential.

    3. The “nuts and bolts” course others have suggested. TFA does have a great model, however it is not the only model, and TFA’s retention numbers are not as strong as we’d all like them to be.

    4. Empowering students and curriculum with technology (including social networking sites, curriculum planning tools, open-source/digital curr resources, etc.)

    5. Maybe a course on “Decision-making in school districts and advocacy on behalf of students and educators”. This could be a case-study course like those offered in business schools (but focused on school boards, state education bureaucracies, etc.).

    The Teacher You program in NYC (launched by the founder of Uncommon Schools) seems poised to actually implement a program like this in partnership with Hunter College. If this model is successful, other schools of ed. will be compelled to comply.

  17. My main complaint about my education degree (I earned a master’s through the NYC Teaching Fellows program) is that I never learned how to DO anything.

    I spent two years of night/summer classes learning about curriculum, child psychology, modes of understanding, etc. But what I really could have used was training: how to deal with disruptive behavior, handle a fire drill, run a parent conference, etc.

    I suppose the logic was that we’d learn this all in our schools – and we did, but only through trial and error. I think our schools – at least mine – assumed that we’d learn all this at ed school.

    Police recruits receive practical training with various scenarios – it builds a reflex on which to rely when the real thing happens. I wish teaching programs would incorporate the same mode of training into their degree programs.

  18. I am also a TFA alum, and will second Jonathon’s comments about TFA curriculum. They also have a leg up on many ed school programs because they continually make changes to the curriculum based on feedback from current corps members and alum to make it useful to new teachers.

    I agree with the idea of restructuring the ed school curriculum, starting with nuts-and-bolts, then fading into more theory. Some basic ed psychology should be presented early, but only in relation to practice. I think that it would be helpful for ed schools to take an approach similar to med schools (with early coursework, then rotations, then residency) rather than take an approach that separates the theory from practice. Teacher reflection definitely needs to be a major part of the curriculum.

    I think ed schools should also think about how to extend teacher participation in school research after certification is obtained. This could be part of a MA/PhD program that focuses on theory once teachers have had time (2-3 years) to get their ‘nuts-and-bolts’ under control and start thinking about how they can continually evolve as a teacher. (Full disclosure: I’m a full-time student in a PhD program in science ed.)

    @LBH: Ditto. I think this is at the heart of the TFA curriculum, and should be for all ed schools.

    @Andrew Bell: Yes, TFA tries to recruit English majors to teach English and science majors to teach science, but this isn’t always the case due to openings in particular regions. I’ve definitely heard of sociology majors teaching math in TFA, but usually due to logistical contraints.

    @Gideon: (1) there are already plenty of teacher standards put out by teacher professional organizations (NSTA and NCTM come to mind), and (2) different teachers have different needs based on their teaching situations. I’m not sure that more standards will help the situation.

  19. So, as an ed school faculty member, I’d like to do a lot of things to my curriculum to make it better, but there are constraints that no one has mentioned. While everyone gripes about the ed school as the problem, from where I sit innovation is stifled by state certification rules that say that all teachers must have 3 credits of this, 6 credits of that. Without including these courses, the program does not get accredited to certify teachers at the end. So, while I am the first to complain about my own curriculum, a lot of the lack of innovation happens at the level of state policy. So, I urge all of you to find out what your state requires in an education program and push to loosen those, or create the equivalent of “charter education schools” that let us innovate.

    If it were up to me, I would frame almost everything as content area methods courses, and teach the other information embedded in the methods classes. Differentiation is not generic, and should be taught within the mathematics or reading methods course, since it will look different in each of those courses. Same with education and society, since it is different for different subject areas. For example, algebra for all is a recent (in the past 15 years) phenomenon whereas literacy for all is a much older requirement of schooling. So, I’d do away with the non-subject specific courses for all middle and high school teachers and build the ideas and knowledge into the subject methods courses and have 6-8 of them that narrowly focus on even smaller issues and aspects of the content areas (e.g., Algebra, Geometry or US History, world history). I’d add child development for early childhood teachers.

    My final gripe is that one of the things that not having a real career path for teachers creates is this feeling you have to teach everything in their education program because I have no idea what my teachers will see when they leave. They may end up in a school that has a great program of professional development, but most don’t. So there is pressure to prepare not just for the first couple of years, but for the rest of their careers since my mathematics methods courses might be the last time they see a subject specific course that is of a long enough duration and intensive enough to ever make a difference. I’d be better able to focus is I knew, like in medicine, that the continuing education was actually going to be focused and relevant.

  20. Seems that most people here are ready to rid education and society courses or foundational aspects of american education I happen to disagree-for one, it is a course which I teach-and I organize my course around essential questions that that are explored throughout the duration of the course. 1) Why teach? Who are today’s students? What makes a good teacher?

  21. [sorry there] What do good schools look like? How to assess student learning ? How to develop a critical voice? These questions are explored through multilple lenses which include historical, political and social elements. The students also complete numerous projects including data assessments of multiple school districts, as well as position papers on current topics in education. Primarily, I fully believe in the importance of Content Area Specialization-you can not teach English or Math or Social Studies if you do not have a distinct command of the requisite academic skills of the subject.

  22. General comment: get rid of the bent for constructivist, inquiry-based, student-centered, brain-based, standards-based and vendor-based crap.

  23. Karen, I found a reference to “Charter education schools.”

    EdWeek, Published: September 8, 2004. Susan Tave Zelman, the Ohio superintendent of public instruction, announced the state’s first “charter education schools” last month….

    Wright St and Mt. St. Josephs.

    Anyone know what happened?

  24. Karen, I would suggest that you look closely at the program approval requirements in your state. I am in Georgia now and worked at a university in Missouri recently. Neither state explicitly prescribes a list of courses that teacher candidates must complete in order to be eligible for certification. In Georgia, the guidance prep programs are given is that they must “incorporate the Georgia Framework for Teaching” (GA Professional Standards Commission Rule 505-3.-01). That is as prescriptive as it gets. However, deans and department chairs will swear up and down that they have to have the same courses they always have “because the state certification rules require it.” I really am not sure what all political forces are at play here, but I know that it is a royal PITA to try to get a college/university faculty to approve new courses and suspect that may be the more legitimate barrier than state policy. That said, every state is different so I recognize it’s possible you are in a state that explicitly defines required courses.

  25. LHB, there is some lattitude, but not for everything. For example, in NY State, there is an explicit requirement for 6 credits of language and literacy for everyone, but no actual credit requirements for content knowledge! So, you have to take 6 credits of language and literacy to be a math teacher, but no specific credits for how much mathematics methods. By listing everything under the sun, the easiest way for a school/university to show that it is being done is to create a course with that title. From learned experience of how hard it is to get the programs through when you remove courses and embed the content, it is a huge hassle to get it through the state. When it is embedded, the reviewers at the state have to actually review the content of the syllabi, and probably rightly so, worry that the evolution of the course will wash out some of the required things. I can slowly replace more and more straight mathematics methods without attention to differentiation than if I had a separate special education course.

    So, I acknowledge there may be more literal flexibility than what is practiced, but the practices build up for a reason. The other issue is that often courses like educational psychology are the only undergraduate courses the ed psych department offers, so they fight to hold on to them for their own ends. But again, that is outside the purview of my group. The same is true at my institution for other “foundations” courses like history of education or education and society.

  26. Here’s a radical notion. At this brand new Ed School we’re opening, let’s equip students with the social and emotional skills that are the hallmark of the most effective leaders.

    What we found at our WINGS after school programs in Charleston, S.C., is that training college students to teach social and emotional skills to children also gives them the tools to motivate themselves and others. Also empowering is their understanding of how they can make a profound difference in the lives of others.

    Research shows that social and emotional learning strengthens attachment to school and makes children more effective learners. These same skills also can give their teachers the power to maximize their impact upon the children they serve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.