School-based Teacher Residencies and University-based Teacher Education: An Exchange

On July 26, I wrote a post on a charter school network that created four-year residency programs for new teachers that I called a Smart Way to create good teachers for urban schools. See:

Kenneth Zeichner took exception to the post. He has been a thoughtful critic of teacher education programs while working tirelessly to improve both the theory and practice of preparing teachers at the University of Wisconsin for over three decades. He is now the Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington. He gave me permission to publish his comments and exchange of emails.

July 30, 2011


I recently read your blog post on a smart way to prepare urban teachers. Although I agree with you about the inadequacy of the traditional college and university-based model of teacher education, I think that it is a big mistake to think that schools and alternative pathways like TFA (Teach for America) and the NTP (New Teacher Project) are going to make things better in the long run. Even with all of the emerging alternatives, colleges and universities still prepare most of the nation’s teachers and will continue to do so given the size of the U.S. teaching force. While I support the idea of alternative pathways (I began my career as a teacher educator as a team leader in the National Teacher Corps in New York), I think that it is a big mistake to continue down the current path of abandoning college and university teacher education rather than investing in trying to change it. I have learned a lot from your work over the years and was very disappointed to see the stance that you took in this blog post. While I too am excited about some aspects of the residency model, and in fact, I am working with Seattle schools to build such a program, the unwillingness of policymakers to invest in university teacher education and in redesigning a professional accreditation system that will take care of the problem of bad programs will worsen rather than improve the situation. I have attached a brief essay that I wrote for AERA after reading about the GREAT act. (Zeichner_AERA_essay-1b )

With respect,


July 30, 2011

Dear Ken,

Thank you for your comment on my recent post about a charter school network residency for new teachers. And I am glad to read that you are working on a similar program in the Seattle schools. I have read a great deal of your work on teaching and teacher education and found it worthwhile.

Of course, you are correct that TFA, Aspire residencies, and alternative pathways to teacher certification contribute a fraction of the teacher corps needed every year across the nation, even in urban schools. But “abandoning college and university teacher education,” as you say, is not what I recommend. District-based teacher education and clinically-driven programs (Relay grad school) are responses to traditional university-based programs. To me, it is not either-or. Working from within the profession as you and others have done for decades is necessary, even essential, for the very reason we both know–alternative programs will never supply the nation’s teachers. To say that, however, does not mean that school- or district based or charter-school based teacher education programs should pack up and disappear. They provide the sand-paper that university-based programs need as they and the larger profession weed out the bad programs. Whether these internal efforts within the profession will convince policymakers to put their money where their words are, I do not know. But start-ups in residencies and district- based programs will continue; some of them are strong and some of them are low-level operations but the high-performers can be used by university-based programs to improve. Internal vs. external ways of reforming institutions is an old story for both teacher education and urban schools, one you know well, Ken. For me, however, it is seldom either-or but both-and.

Sincerely, Larry

July 31, 2011

Thanks for your response Larry. I assumed that it was not an either/or situation for you, but the “common sense” now is that university teacher education should be replaced and that alternative pathways should become dominant. Unless you explicitly state that we need to invest in changing ineffective models of university teacher education, the implication for a lot of people will be that you are on the side of those who seek to make teaching a temporary occupation rather than a career and “early entry” teacher education the norm.

I gained my certification though the urban teacher preparation program at Syracuse in the late 60s (a Ford foundation founded early entry MAT program), and have been critical of traditional disconnected and ineffective university models throughout my career. As I state in my essay though, I think that it is a great error not to invest in innovation public university teacher education especially when states are abandoning public universities and massively slashing the budgets of public schools.  I agree that school-based teacher education, including residencies, are an important part of the solution, but we should learn from the British experience of shifting teacher education mostly to the schools without the resources to do it well. School-based programs are not a panacea as many are making them out to be and the research evidence on residency programs is almost non-existent.

Right now the emphasis is on promoting alternatives to university teacher education (including the allegedly “beyond ideology” Relay graduate school of education) and on developing a value-added based accountability system for college and university programs.  The whole debate right now rests on assertions about which teachers can raise standardized test scores. Very few of the advocates of TFA and other forms of alternative pathways want their own children and grandchildren to be taught by these early entry and teach-for-awhile teachers. If they are so good, then why don’t those who are so critical of education schools send their own kids to to be taught by them?

There is also very little attention in the debate about teachers and teacher education to issues of poverty. It is absurd to believe that we can keep slashing the budgets of school districts and public universities across the country and that somehow, Relay school of education, TFA and the New Teacher Project will come in and solve everything.


August 1, 2011

Dear Ken,

I do believe that the federal government and states should invest in promising university-based teacher education models as long as those same universities dump historically ineffective ones kept in place by state requirements and universities eager to keep the cash flowing from recruits to teacher education.

Moreover, school-based models of teacher education and those like Relay graduate school that concentrate only on the practical side of teaching also risk returning to those early 20th-century models of district-based normal schools that cranked out teachers rigidly tailored to fit classrooms in Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and other cities.  So I do want “smart” university-programs, building on what has been learned from school-based programs that blend the theoretical and practical in ways that help novices become better teachers, especially in urban schools.

There is, of course, a “but.” Foundations and federal and state government still invest reform dollars in alternative pathway models of teacher entry into classrooms and performance-based accountability programs at the same time as traditional financing of university-based teacher education programs is being hit hard. So choices have to be made. I would like enlightened donors and policymakers to invest reform-driven dollars in both. But what I would like to happen and what does happen is something beyond my control.




Filed under school reform policies

4 responses to “School-based Teacher Residencies and University-based Teacher Education: An Exchange

  1. Bob Calder

    I am laughing over the contrast between previous “technology moving education out of the classroom” posts and alternative certification pathways doing the same thing. There are plenty of differences, but it’s still worth a chuckle.

    Examining the alumni of all types of programs *should* provide enough data to determine why certain things work. Personally, I think it’s the quality of instruction, no matter where it’s located. Examine at the social networks discussing graduate science programs in biology for examples of how a healthy social support network communicates problem and solicits help. Look for user-created solutions (like that) rather than institutionally-imposed “fixes”.

    Solutions based outside the k-12 building (in the university) have the advantage of being outside of the potentially toxic and isolating environments that are common. But the ability to reflect on classroom practice is not as good for 25 college students with no work experience and in very diverse schools, some k, some 1-5, some 6-8 et cetera, versus 25 people who have more in common as second career people often do. Or people with a common “Hare Krishna-like” ideology for that matter.

  2. An interesting exchange which reflects the UK situation and the establishment of the first 100 “Teaching Schools” recently announced;

  3. I am certain you are aware of the Finnish teacher education model and how it has slowly helped improve their education system. This is the direction teacher education in the US should be headed, but slow education results coupled with the financial hit some universities would take by adopting this model, will ensure it never takes hold.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the reminder about “slow education,” a concept that is nearly foreign to American culture but worthwhile to think about.

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