Skip to content
ascd logo

Join
March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6

The Quiet Revolution: Rethinking Teacher Development

author avatar
Over the last decade, a quiet revolution in teaching has been under way. The profession has begun to engage in serious standard-setting that reflects a growing knowledge base and a growing consensus about what teachers should know and be able to do to help all students learn according to challenging new standards. Most states have launched efforts to restructure schools and to invest in greater teacher knowledge.
Changes are also taking place in teacher preparation programs across the country; performance-based approaches to licensing and accreditation are being reconsidered; and a new National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has created assessments for certifying accomplished teachers. School districts and grass roots networks are creating partnerships to support teacher development and to rethink schools.
These initiatives are partly a response to major changes affecting our society and our schools. Because rapid social and economic transformations require greater learning from all students, society is reshaping the mission of education. Schools are now expected not only to offer education, but to ensure learning. Teachers are expected not only to "cover the curriculum" but to create a bridge between the needs of each learner and the attainment of challenging learning goals.
These objectives—a radical departure from education's mission during the past century—demand that teachers understand learners and their learning as deeply as they comprehend their subjects, and that schools structure themselves to support deeper forms of student and teacher learning than they currently permit. The invention of 21st century schools that can educate all children well rests, first and foremost, upon the development of a highly qualified and committed teaching force.
As recently as 10 years ago, the idea that teacher knowledge was critical for educational improvement had little currency. Continuing a tradition begun at the turn of the 20th century, policymakers searched for the right set of test prescriptions, textbook adoptions, and curriculum directives to be packaged and mandated to guide practice. Educational reform was "teacher proofed" with hundreds of pieces of legislation and thousands of discrete regulations prescribing what educators should do.
More recent efforts differ from past strategies that did not consider how ideas would make it from the statehouse to the schoolhouse. New initiatives are investing in the front lines of education. Policymakers increasingly realize that regulations cannot transform schools; only teachers, in collaboration with parents and administrators, can do that.
Indeed, solutions to all of the problems that educational critics cite are constrained by the availability of knowledgeable, skillful teachers and school conditions that define how that knowledge can be used. Raising graduation requirements in mathematics, science, and foreign language, for example, is of little use if there are not enough teachers prepared to teach those subjects well. Concerns about at-risk children cannot be addressed without teachers prepared to meet the diverse needs of students with varying learning styles, family situations, and beliefs about what school means for them.
In policy terms, betting on teaching as a key strategy for reform means investing in stronger preparation and professional development while granting teachers greater autonomy. It also means spending more on teacher development and less on bureaucracies and special programs created to address the problems created by poor teaching. Finally, we must put greater knowledge directly in the hands of teachers and seek accountability that will focus attention on "doing the right things" rather than on "doing things right." Such reforms demand changes in much existing educational policy, in current school regulations, and in management structures.

Possibilities for Transforming Teaching

Several current efforts hold great promise to transform teaching: redesigning initial teacher preparation, rethinking professional development; and involving teachers in research, collaborative inquiry, and standard-setting in the profession. Given the fact that fully half of the teachers who will be teaching in the year 2005 will be hired over the next decade (and large-scale hiring will continue into the decade thereafter), this is a critical time to transform the quality of teacher preparation.
New ideas about teacher preparation. Over the past decade, many schools of education have made great strides in incorporating new understandings of teaching and learning into their programs for prospective teachers. More attention to learning and cognition has accompanied a deepening appreciation for content pedagogy and constructivist teaching. In addition, teacher preparation and induction programs are increasingly helping prospective teachers and interns develop a reflective, problem-solving orientation by engaging them in teacher research, school-based inquiry, and inquiry into student's experiences. These approaches help teachers build an empirical understanding of learners and a capacity to analyze what occurs in their classrooms and in the lives of their students.
Efforts to develop teachers as managers of their own inquiry stand in contrast to earlier assumptions teacher induction and about teaching generally: beginning teachers need to focus only on the most rudimentary tasks of teaching with basic precepts and cookbook rules to guide them, and more seasoned teachers should be the recipients, not the generators, of knowledge. Teacher preparation is now seeking to empower teachers to use and develop knowledge about teaching and learning as sophisticated and powerful as the demands of their work require.
Professional development schools. A growing number of education schools are working with school systems to create professional development schools that will prepare teachers for what schools must become, not only schools as they are. Too often there is a disparity between the conceptions of good practice that beginning teachers are taught and those they encounter when they begin teaching.
Professional development schools, which now number several hundred across the country, prepare beginning teachers in settings that support state-of-the-art practice and provide needed coaching and collaboration. Where districts and schools of education are creating professional development school partnerships, they are finding ways to marry state-of-the-art practice for students and state-of-the-art preparation and induction for teachers (Darling-Hammond 1994).
Teacher education reformers are beginning to recognize that prospective teachers, like their students, learn by doing. As teacher educators, beginning teachers, and experienced teachers work together on real problems of practice in learner-centered settings, they can begin to develop a collective knowledge base and a common set of understandings about practice.
Collaborative inquiry and standard-setting. In addition to these reforms, important initiatives are under way to develop more meaningful standards for teaching, including performance-based standards for teacher licensing; more sophisticated and authentic assessments for teachers; and national standards for teacher education, licensing, and certification. These national efforts are being led by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
The new standards and assessments take into explicit account the multicultural, multilingual nature of a student body that possesses multiple intelligences and approaches to learning. The standards reflect the view of teaching as collegial work and as an intellectual activity. In many restructuring schools and schools of education, prospective, new, and veteran teachers are conducting school-based inquiry, evaluating programs, and studying their own practices—with one another and with university-based colleagues.
In many restructured schools, teachers are developing local standards, curriculum, and authentic student assessments. Those who develop assessments of their own teaching—for example, through the certification process of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—also discover that careful reflection about standards of practice stimulates an ongoing learning process.

Issues in Teacher Preparation

If we are to sustain these promising new initiatives, however, we must confront deeply entrenched barriers. As an occupation, teaching has historically been underpaid and micromanaged, with few investments in teachers' learning and few supports for teachers' work. By contrast, European and Asian countries hire a greater number of teachers who are better prepared, better paid, better supported, and vested with more decision-making responsibility. The conditions that enable these countries to provide much greater time and learning opportunity for teachers suggest that rethinking school staffing and scheduling must go hand in hand with redesigning teacher development.
By the standards of other professions and of teacher preparation in other countries, U.S. teacher education has been thin, uneven in quality, and underresourced. While a growing number of teachers participate in rigorous courses of study, including intensive internships (increasingly, five- or six-year programs), many still attend underfunded undergraduate programs that their universities treat as "cash cows." These programs, typically less well-funded than any other department or professional school on campus, produce greater revenues for educating future businessmen, lawyers, and accountants than they spend on educating the future teachers they serve (Ebmeier et al. 1990, Sykes 1985).
In addition to the tradition of emergency certification that continues in more than 40 states, some newly launched alternative certification programs provide only a few weeks of training for entering teachers, skipping such fundamentals as learning theory, child development, and subject matter pedagogy and placing recruits in classrooms without previous supervised experience. Each year about 20,000 individuals enter teaching without a license, while another 30,000 enter with substandard credentials.
In addition to lack of support for beginning teacher preparation, districts spend less than one half of 1 percent of their resources on staff development. Most corporations and schools in other countries spend many times that amount. Staff development in the United States is still characterized by one-shot workshops rather than more effective, problem-based approaches that are built into teachers' ongoing work with colleagues. As a result, most teachers have few opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills over the course of their careers.
The lack of investment in teacher knowledge is a function of the factory model approach to schooling adopted nearly a century ago, which invested in an administrative bureaucracy to design, monitor, and inspect teaching, rather than in the knowledge of the people doing the work. As a consequence, preservice and inservice investments in teacher knowledge have been quite small compared to those in many other countries.
In contrast to the traditions of U.S. education, teachers in these countries make virtually all decisions about curriculum, teaching, and assessment because of the greater preparation and inservice support they receive. They are almost never hired without full preparation, a practice enabled by subsidies that underwrite teacher preparation and by salaries that are comparable to those in other professions.
In the former West Germany, for example, prospective teachers earn the equivalent of two academic majors in separate disciplines prior to undertaking two additional years of rigorous teacher preparation at the graduate level. This training combines pedagogical seminars with classroom-based observation and intensively supervised practice teaching (Burns et al. 1991, OECD 1990, Kolstad et al. 1989).
Preparation in Luxembourg, a seven-year process, extends beyond the baccalaureate degree to professional training that blends pedagogical learning with extensive supervised practice teaching (OECD 1990).
In France, new models of teacher education send candidates through two years of graduate teacher education, including an intensively supervised yearlong internship in schools.
Most European and Asian countries are extending both their preservice education requirements and inservice learning opportunities for teachers (OECD 1990). Five-year programs of teacher preparation and intensive internships are becoming the norm around the world (Darling-Hammond and Cobb 1995).
Beginning teachers in Japan receive at least 20 days of inservice training during their first year on the job, plus 60 days of professional development. Master teachers are released from their own classrooms to advise and counsel them (Stigler and Stevenson 1991, OECD 1990).
In Taiwan, candidates pursue a four-year undergraduate degree, which includes extensive courses on child learning, development, and pedagogy, prior to a full-year teaching practicum in a carefully selected and supervised setting.
After their preparation as apprentices, beginning teachers in the People's Republic of China work with a reduced teaching load, observing other teachers and preparing under the supervision of master teachers. They work in teaching teams to plan lessons and do peer observations (Paine 1990). Schools in China provide ongoing supports for collegial learning.
In most of these European, and many Asian, countries, teachers spend between 15 and 20 hours per week in their classrooms and the remaining time with colleagues developing lessons, visiting parents, counseling students, pursuing research, attending study groups and seminars, and visiting other schools.
By contrast, most U.S. elementary teachers have three or fewer hours for preparation per week (only 8 minutes for every hour in the classroom), while secondary teachers generally have five preparation periods per week (13 minutes for every hour of classroom instruction) (NEA 1992). In most U.S. schools, teachers are not expected to meet with other teachers, develop curriculum or assessments, or observe one another's classes—nor is time generally provided for these kinds of activities.

Investing in Time for Teacher Learning

Other countries are able to afford these greater investments in teachers' knowledge and time for collaborative work because they hire fewer nonteaching staff and more teachers who assume a broader range of decision-making responsibilities.
In the United States, the number of teachers has declined to only 53 percent of public school staff, while the number of nonteaching specialists and other staff has increased (NCES 1993). And only about 75 percent of teachers take primary responsibility for classrooms of children. The remainder work in pullout settings or perform nonteaching duties. A system in which lots of staff work outside the classroom to direct and augment the work of teachers unintentionally increases the need for greater coordination, raises class sizes, and reduces time for classroom teachers to collaborate.
While fewer than half of all public education employees in the United States work primarily as classroom teachers, classroom teaching staff comprise more than three-fourths of all public education employees in Australia and Japan, and more than 80 percent in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain (OECD 1992). These hiring patterns give a greater number of teachers per student more time each week for professional development activities, studies with colleagues, and meetings with parents and individual students. In their study of mathematics teaching and learning in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States, Stigler and Stevenson note that one reason Asian class lessons are so well crafted is that there is a very systematic effort to pass on the accumulated wisdom of teaching practice to each new generation of teachers and to keep perfecting that practice by providing teachers the opportunities to continually learn from one another (1991).
In addition, teaching in most other countries is not as bureaucratically organized as it is in the United States. It is not uncommon, for example, in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Sweden, for teachers to teach multiple subjects, counsel students, and teach the same students for multiple years (Shimahara 1985, OECD 1990). Where similar arrangements for personalizing teacher-student relationships have been tried in the United States, student achievement is significantly higher because teachers know their students better both academically and personally (NIE 1977, Gottfredson and Daiger 1979).
Professionalizing teaching may call for rethinking school structures and roles and reallocating educational dollars. If teachers assume many instructional tasks currently performed by others (for example, curriculum development and supervision), the layers of bureaucratic hierarchy will be reduced. If teachers have opportunities for collaborative inquiry and learning, the vast wisdom of practice developed by excellent teachers will be shared across the profession. If teachers are more carefully selected and better trained and supported, expenditures for management systems to control incompetence will decrease. And if we make investments at the beginning of teachers' careers for induction support and pre-tenure evaluation, we should see a decline in the money needed to recruit and hire new entrants to replace the 30 percent who leave in the first few years.
These early investments will also reduce the costs of band-aid approaches to staff development for those who have not learned to teach effectively and the costs of remediating, or trying to dismiss, poor teachers—not to mention the costs of compensating for the effects of their poor teaching on children. In the long run, strategic investment in teacher competence should free up resources for innovation and learning.

Rethinking Schooling and Teaching Together

Ultimately, the quality of teaching depends not only on the qualities of those who enter and stay, but also on workplace factors. Teachers who feel enabled to succeed with students are more committed and effective than those who feel unsupported in their learning and in their practice (Haggstrom et al. 1988, McLaughlin and Talbert 1993, Rosenholtz 1989). Those who have access to teacher networks, enriched professional roles, and collegial work feel more efficacious in gaining the knowledge they need to meet the needs of their students and more positive about staying in the profession.
Teachers in schools with shared decision making, according to a recent survey, were most likely to see curriculum reforms accompanying transformations in teaching roles (LH Research 1993). For example, 72 percent of teachers in site-based managed schools believed that cooperative learning had had a major impact on their schools, compared to only 35 percent of teachers in schools that had not restructured. Also more prevalent in restructuring schools were more rigorous graduation standards, performance-based assessment practices, emphasis on in-depth understanding rather than superficial content coverage, accelerated learning approaches, connections between classroom practices and home experiences of students, and teacher involvement in decisions about school spending (LH Research 1993).
Teachers in such schools were more likely to report that their schools were providing structured time for teachers to work together on professional matters—for example, planning instruction, observing one another's classrooms, and providing feedback about their teaching. More opportunities to counsel students in home visits and to adapt instruction to students' needs were also cited. In addition to feeling less constrained by district routines or standardized curriculums, teachers were more optimistic about their relationships with principals, their working conditions, and the educational performance of students. In brief, teachers in restructured schools were more confident about the professional status of teachers and more likely to view themselves as agents, rather than targets, of reform (LH Research 1993).
The attempts across the country are still embryonic and scattered rather than systemic, but the possibilities for rethinking teacher preparation and revamping how schools structure teacher time and responsibilities are probably greater now than they have ever been. Although current efforts are impressive, it is important to realize that American education has been down this path before. The criticisms of current educational reformers—that our schools provide most children with an education that is too passive and too rote-oriented to produce learners who can think critically, synthesize and transform, experiment and create—are virtually identical to those of progressive educators at the turn of the century, in the 1930s, and again in the 1960s.
An underinvestment in teacher knowledge and school capacity killed all of these efforts to create more universal, high-quality education. "Progressive education," Cremin argued, "demanded infinitely skilled teachers, and it failed because such teachers could not be recruited in sufficient numbers" (1965). Because of this failure, during each wave of reform, learner-centered education gave way to standardizing influences that "dumbed down" the curriculum: in the efficiency movement of the 1920s, the teacher-proof curriculum reforms of the 1950s, and the back-to-the-basics movement of the 1970s and '80s. Disappointment with the outcomes of these attempts to simplify and prescribe school procedures, however, led in turn in each instance to renewed criticisms of schools and attempts to restructure them.
Current efforts at school reform are likely to succeed to the extent that they are built on a strong foundation of teaching knowledge and are sustained by a commitment to structural rather than merely symbolic change. Major changes in the productivity of American schools rest on our ability to create and sustain a highly prepared teaching force for all, not just some, of our children.
References

Burns, B. P. Hinkle, R. Marshall, C. S. Manegold, F. Chideya, T. Waldrop, D. Foote, and D. Pedersen. (December 2, 1991). "The Best Schools in the World." Newsweek: 50-64.

Cremin, L. A. (1965). The Genius of American Education. New York: Vintage Books.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Professional Development Schools: Schools for Developing a Profession. New York: Teachers College Press.

Darling-Hammond, L., and V. L. Cobb. (1995). A Comparative Study of Teacher Training and Professional Development in APEC Members. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Ebmeier, H. , S.Twombly, and D. Teeter. (1990). "The Comparability and Adequacy of Financial Support for Schools of Education." Journal of Teacher Education 42: 226-235.

Gottfredson, G. D., and D. C. Daiger. (1979). Disruption in Six Hundred Schools. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Haggstrom, G. W., L. Darling-Hammond, and D. W. Grissmer. (1988). Assessing Teacher Supply and Demand. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation.

Kolstad, R. K., D. R. Coker, and C. Edelhoff. (January 1989). "Teacher Education in Germany: An Alternative Model for the United States." The Clearing House 62, 5: 233-234.

LH Research. (1993). A Survey of the Perspective of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers on Reform. Prepared for the Ford Foundation. New York: LH Research.

McLaughlin, M. W., and J. E. Talbert. (1993). "New Visions of Teaching." In Teaching for Understanding: Challenges for Policy and Practice, edited by D. K. Cohen, M. W. McLaughlin, and J. E. Talbert. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

NCES. (1993). The Condition of Education, 1993. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

NEA (1992). The Status of the American School Teacher. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.

NIE. (1977). Violent Schools—Safe Schools: The Safe School Study Report to Congress. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education.

OECD. (1990). The Training of Teachers. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

OECD. (1992). Education at a Glance, OECD Indicators. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Paine, L. W. (1990). "The Teacher as Virtuoso: A Chinese Model for Teaching." Teachers College Record 92: 49-81.

Rosenholtz, S. (1989). Teacher's Workplace: The Social Organization of Schools. New York: Longman.

Shimahara, N. K. (1985). "Japanese Education and Its Implications for U.S. Education." Phi Delta Kappan 66: 418-421.

Stigler, J. W., and H. W. Stevenson. (Spring 1991). "How Asian Teachers Polish Each Lesson to Perfection." American Educator: 12-47.

Sykes, G. (1985). "Teacher Education in the United States." In The School and the University, edited by B. R. Clark, pp. 264-289. Los Angeles: University of California.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, where she founded the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and served as faculty sponsor of the Stanford Teacher Education Program, which she helped to redesign.

Darling-Hammond is past president of the American Educational Research Association and recipient of its awards for Distinguished Contributions to Research, Lifetime Achievement, and Research-to-Policy. She is a member of the American Association of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Education.

In 2006, she was named one of the nation's 10 most influential people affecting educational policy and later served as the leader of President Obama's education policy transition team.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Related Articles
View all
undefined
Leadership
Responding to Intolerance: Leadership for a Multiracial Democracy
John Rogers
1 day ago

Related Articles

From our issue
Product cover image 196007.jpg
Improving Professional Practice
Go To Publication