Sunday, July 30, 2023

Michael Johnston: Reforming teacher education without carrots or sticks

Teacher education in New Zealand needs serious attention.

Politicians are naturally drawn to top-down solutions. For one thing, they afford Ministers the illusion of control. For another, they promise quick results.

Ministers for Education from the Australian states have agreed on a major overhaul of teacher education. Their consensus follows a report identifying a range of deficiencies. These include failures to follow scientific evidence on how children learn, to prepare teachers to teach literacy effectively, and to set new teachers up to be capable classroom managers.

The Australian Ministers settled on a top-down solution.

A new organisation, the Initial Teacher Education Quality Assurance Board, will oversee universities’ teacher education programmes. It will have the power to strip universities of accreditation to deliver these programmes if they don’t use evidence-based approaches.

In addition to this stick, there are also carrots. Universities that comply will receive funding incentives.

Following the Australian announcements, New Zealand is considering its own teacher education situation. Education Minister Jan Tinetti is seeking advice from officials on whether the Australian developments are relevant to New Zealand.

National’s Erica Stanford is already clear that change is necessary. In the New Zealand Herald, Stanford was quoted as saying, “Every school that I go into, without doubt, brings up initial teacher education as a huge problem.”

Stanford is right. Teacher education in New Zealand needs serious attention. The problems identified in the Australian report are problems here, too. But is Australia’s top-down, carrot-and-stick approach really the way to go?

New Zealand should consider a bottom-up approach before rushing to follow Australia’s lead.

A key lever for reforming New Zealand’s teacher education programmes is the Standards for the Teaching Profession, set by the Teaching Council. Teachers must meet these standards to practice.

The current Standards are vague and weak. They do not mandate knowledge of the science of learning. They are silent on effective literacy instruction. They say nothing about classroom management skills.

If the Standards required all teachers to demonstrate an ability to apply evidence-based practice in the classroom, universities would quickly come on board. If they did not, their graduates could not be certificated as teachers.

A forthcoming New Zealand Initiative report will lay out a strategy to reform professional standards for teachers. The aim is to amplify existing pockets of quality, rather than directly imposing change from above.

While less politically impressive, and although they take time to yield results, bottom-up policy solutions are usually more durable.

Dr Michael Johnston has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. He holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne. This article was published HERE


Anonymous said...

This is not a criticism but a frustration aired...Why do people such as you, the writer of the above, not have input into policy areas? Surely there could be people like you as advisors, arranged in small regional groups, with delegates to a national group. Which could advise policy makers. That would be bottom up too. Perhaps it is all too siloed at a "higher" level which is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Science teacher training certainly needs a brush-up. The new ideology downplays the role of the science laboratory and trainee teachers often receive little or even no practical training at all in running lab sessions for science classes. (Would you believe it if I told you I dipped out on a job in science teacher training at an Aus university because I emphasise the role of labs? I could hardly believe it myself.......) This appears to be a problem in many countries and systems. We are graduating 'lab shy' teachers (see my book 'Teacher Quality in Upper Secondary Science Education', Palgrave-Macmillan 2016). Training lab-competent science teachers takes time and effort that currently are going into ideological bullshit training. Let's train science teachers to teach hands-on science!

Gaynor said...

I firmly believe we should be learning from our own history.
In the 1990s Roger Oppenshaw had a questionnaire for teachers, recording what and how they had taught in previous decades. The results revealed teachers taught using traditional methods including phonics many decades defying the department dictates progressive methods were to be used. Many teachers,quite rightly, believed teaching was a practical subject and academia,the department and Beebyism produced theoretical nonsense that they saw for themselves didn't work. Another factor academia has overlooked was that structured phonics with phonemes ,of the 1930s to 1950 was taught by sharing knowledge with the parents. After all the infant reading books were permanently home based. When the wrong methods of look and say and whole language were introduced later, parents or extended family frequently knew precisely what to do with a child who struggled to learn to read
Finally the theory of the science of reading (SOR) is 'rocket science' but the actual teaching of infant reading is most certainly not. My mother taught hundreds of parents, some semi literate how to teach their own failing children.
The SOR is very well researched but there is a paucity of research in the science of reading instruction.