In an Education Week column (Published Online: December 10, 2013; Published in Print: December 11, 2013, Vol. 33. Issue 14, pp. 28-29), Donald Heller, Avner Segall, and Corey Drake (dean of the college of education; chair of the department of teacher education; associate professor and the director of teacher education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, respectively) published a response to the NCTQ teacher-prep review released in June 2013. According to Heller, Segall, and Drake:
It seems, according to the NCTQ, that the very activities at the heart of teacher preparation—the enacted curriculum in the nation's teacher-prep classrooms and the learning derived from it—make no difference. We do not believe the limited data sources used by the NCTQ to evaluate programs can generate a reliable and valid measure of the quality of preparation programs and all the intricate work that takes place in them.Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, responded in a column posted on EdWeek just days later. In it, Ms. Walsh argues that "attacking the methodology" of the NCTQ study is a "red herring." She goes on and makes an interesting presumption:
Is the field prepared to ask public schools which courses matter more for the new teachers they may one day hire: Human Diversity, Power, and Opportunity in Social Institutions, an actual required course at Michigan State University (the letter-writers’ institution) for undergraduate teacher-candidates, or Research-Based Classroom Management Strategies 101, the sort of course NCTQ seeks? Our guess is that you know which they’d pick, and that’s why any discussion of our standards is avoided. [emphasis added]
Dr. Heller (dean of Michigan State in East Lansing) followed up with a commentary on Valerie Strauss's blog at the Washington Post, responding specifically to this comment from Ms. Walsh:
The implication is that because we train our prospective teachers about the diversity of the students they will encounter in today’s school classrooms, and the challenges those students face (which is what our course does), that we somehow are derelict in our duty of teacher training. The council apparently believes that unless a program has an entire course in classroom management, that it cannot be a quality program.
Our program does not have a separate course in classroom management; these techniques are instead embedded in the over 50 credit hours of courses...This led me to think about other professions and the preparation to enter other fields that require specialized training or school. I looked at the first-year course descriptions for the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. The courses are things like biochemistry and genetics, with the more curiously-titled "Medicine and Society I" and "Clinical and Professional Skills I". The course descriptions for the first semester can be found here. There is not one course entitled "Surgery" or "Bone-setting" or even "How to break bad news to a patient." However, undeniably, those skills and ideas are--like classroom management in teaching--embedded throughout the program.
The same is true at Iowa College of Law. While the course names are more familiar--"Contracts" or "Family law"--the breadth of the subject matter guarantees that the professors are selective in what they present to students. Having graduated from Iowa College of Law, I can say that I didn't learn the steps involved in a stop by police officers (do they pull in front of or behind the car in question? do they ask for registration first or do they have the driver step out of the car?) but I did learn about probable cause; the right to be free from unreasonable stops and seizures; and the case law relevant to challenging illegal stops.
Teacher preparation programs shouldn't necessarily have courses like "research-based classroom management strategies" because these types of courses play into the exact opposite way we are (and should) be teaching today. Students should not be taught to compartmentalize information, but instead to synthesize and blend many elements to solve issues calling for critical thinking.
In our program (and I know we aren't alone), we don't even use the term "classroom management." We talk about engagement. Engaged students don't need to be managed because they are involved and even enthralled with their own learning. It enables us as educators of educators to focus on important issues, like how to teach toward mastery learning and how to develop content-based projects. And, like Dr. Heller's program, we focus not on how to manage a student's lack of engagement but instead on why that student is unengaged. Is there an IEP or 504 accommodation for the student? Hunger is a a real deterrent to learning; did the student miss breakfast in the cafeteria? Would differentiating the classroom--having the student work with a partner or in a small group, or giving him or her the option to create a different project, more applicable to his or her skills and understanding--be helpful for this student?
We prepare our teaching candidates to teach all students in all environments. Our classes are rigorous and, yes, we put a high premium on the candidate's understanding of and ability to teach to a changing student population--one more racially diverse than ever; one more economically stratified than ever; and one used to technology and quick input of information, used to finding the answers to life's mysteries on Google or Bing.
Good luck "managing" those students. But engage them and teach them? That's the more exciting and more challenging goal.