Last week, the Australian Government released its response to the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group Report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers. The Government commissioned the report to inform the strategies it will adopt to improve the quality of future teachers.
Both the report and the response have noble intentions to produce quality teachers, and they touch on the right areas.
However, I fear the Government’s plan will not be followed. Here is a quick snapshot of the report, the response and the reasons why I believe it is doomed to fail. I hope I am wrong.
Higher Standards for Enrolling In Teaching Degrees
If we want quality teachers it makes sense to select the best applicants for teacher education courses. Would-be teachers cannot teach what they do not know. If they struggled academically at school, how can they help their future students to excel in the academic arena?
This is why top performing school systems (e.g. Finland) have rigorous procedures for selecting who gets into their teacher education courses. In Finland, only 1 in 10 applicants get in. It is also why teaching is considered such a prestigious profession in Finland.
The review supports the idea of higher entry standards to study teaching, as do the Australian Education Union and the Australian Primary Principals Association. However, it fails to translate this support in a hard-edged recommendation for minimum entry scores. Rather, it gives a vague call to universities to select teachers by looking at a mix of academic and personal qualities.
While research supports the notion that great teachers have qualities beyond their own academic achievement (e.g. a passion for helping kids learn, conscientiousness), it also shows that academic ability and a deep knowledge of the material being taught are essential.
Given that universities earn their money by getting more bums on seats, and it will be universities who come up with their own way of selecting students, I don’t think this report’s vague call will be enough.
Teachers-In-Training Need Better Preparation
The review found that there was an urgent need to improve the quality of teacher education courses, with universities often promoting approaches to teaching that are not backed up by hard research. How can we produce quality teachers without quality training? This concern is further supported by John Hattie’s earlier findings that current teacher preparation programs have little, if any, impact on the results of trainee-teachers’ future students.
The review recommends that the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) should be given the power to accredit teacher education courses, and that it should play a lead role in helping universities to strengthen their offerings.
The government has stated that it supports AITSL playing a leading role, but does not support the idea of a national regulator. Rather, the government wants AITSL to work with the existing state (+territory) teacher regulatory authorities.
While I greatly admire the talent of AITSL chairman, John Hattie – I question the wisdom of leaving him as a toothless tiger forced to guide and negotiate with the same authorities who have already failed to adequately regulate teacher education courses in their state.
Here is what John Hattie had to say.
The review also found that too many new graduates start work without being ready to deal with the practical challenges of teaching in school. These challenges include managing students’ behaviour, working with parents, and assessing the impact that they have had on their students.
The review also recommends that practical skills and hands-on experience be given a more prevalent place in teacher preparation courses. In short, graduates must be ready to meet the everyday challenges of the classroom.
More Rigorous Standards for Graduating
John Hattie believes that quality teachers are those who have the largest impact on students’ learning. He wants to see universities responsible for demonstrating the impact that their graduates have on their subsequent school students. This is an honourable idea, but how will it happen?
The Australian Government has decided against giving AITSL regulatory powers. Teacher registration will remain the responsibility of state bodies and universities will still be responsible for deciding who graduates.
The Government has asked schools (involving many different states, systems and sectors) to work with universities and help teachers-in-training compile a folio of evidence showing the impact they have had on their students during their ‘pracs’.
Furthermore, teachers-in-training must also use their portfolio to show that they meet the ‘graduate level’ of AITSL’s Professional Standards for Teachers. Sadly, the standards themselves include references to unproven fads such as learning styles, which John Hattie himself has already dismissed as bunkum. Recognising this existing weakness in the standards, the Government has asked AITSL to review their suitability.
The report also recommended that teachers-in-training must be within the top 30% of the population in personal literacy and numeracy. The Government has stated that graduates will have to pass literacy and numeracy tests.
Of course, we want literate and numerate teachers. A recent study by Brian Moon showed that many teacher-in-training struggle with basic spelling, vocabulary and grammar.
Yet, as Brain noted, much of this could be addressed through tougher entry standards in university courses – an option the Government is choosing to forgo. The Government’s watered-down commitment to passing the test may not be sufficient.
Comprehensive Induction & Support
The review recommends that new teachers receive comprehensive induction and support, including mentoring from existing quality teachers. This is a common feature of many top-performing school systems, such as Hong-Kong, Singapore and South Korea.
The Australian Government supports the importance of induction, and AITSL has been tasked with developing national guidelines that outline what effective induction entails.
However, induction will still be the responsibility of individual employing authorities. These individual authorities have been left to find the money for induction themselves, and it remains to be seen what (if anything) will be done if they choose not to follow AITSL’s induction guidelines.
Couple this with overlapping responsibilities of the Australian Government (and it’s champion AITSL) and the State Governments (and their respective teacher bodies) and it is easy to see that accountability for induction can fall through the cracks.