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Education Reporter

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Educating Teachers: The Best Minds Speak Out, Trustees for Better Teachers, George C. Leef, Editor, American Council for Trustees and Alumni, 2002, 102 pps, $14.95

The ten essays in this collection analyze the problems with America's teacher colleges and the educational philosophy that guides them. Alarmed by the poor performance of U.S. students on standardized tests relative to students in other countries and relative to previous generations, the publishing organization calls on university trustees to force changes on the teacher colleges, which obstinately resist evidence of best practices.

Heather MacDonald identifies the prime culprit in the first essay: the progressive education philosophy that emerged in the early 20th century. In this child-centered approach to education, the child must "construct" his own knowledge, preferably in a group, rather than receive it from teachers. In preparing teachers to teach what MacDonald calls Anything But Knowledge, an education program "can't have content specifics," according to a Hunter College administrator, "because then you have a point of view."

This aversion to content education means that education majors, who have the lowest average SAT and ACT scores of any program of study, typically do not master any particular academic discipline - not even the one that they will teach. Several of the essays conclude that alternative routes to teacher certification, allowing content mastery rather than education degrees, would be a step in the right direction. Teachers with degrees in traditional academic subjects are the usual choice of expensive private schools.

"The teacher as a 'sage on a stage' has been tossed aside in favor of a learning facilitator, more commonly known as a 'guide on the side,'" write Lawrence A. Baines and Gregory Stanley. "In the current educational climate, the worst insult that can be leveled at a teacher is that a lesson involves 'rote learning.'" After publishing their essay on the "rage against expertise," the authors heard from a student who had suffered through an education course from a professor who said, "If I ever catch you giving a lecture to the students, you will automatically receive an F for the course."

Essays by Douglas Carnine and Louisa Spencer report on the recalcitrance of the education establishment concerning teaching reading with systematic phonics, which research overwhelmingly demonstrates is the most effective method. Other essays describe more-successful teacher-training approaches outside of the U.S. public university system, in Japan and at Hillsdale College. Visit www.goacta.org.

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