Email Status

Volume 28, Number 5
September/October 2012

Schools That Educate Everyone (Grown-Ups Included)

An Interview with David K. Cohen


David K. Cohen, 77, is a longtime professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan. A prolific researcher and author, he was a co-director of the Study of Instructional Improvement, a landmark longitudinal study of efforts to improve instruction and learning in high-poverty elementary schools. His most recent book, Teaching and Its ­Predicaments (Harvard University Press, 2011), examines teaching within the decentralized educational system in the United States. HEL assistant editor Patti Hartigan caught up with him over the summer to tap his mind about the Common Core State Standards and teacher education.

What’s the biggest challenge for teachers today?
The biggest challenge for teachers is that they are not well prepared to begin teaching effectively from day one—and that most are destined to work in schools that aren’t geared to helping them continue to learn their craft.

For the past 20-odd years, there has been growing pressure for schools to improve students’ achievement in ways that have more intellectual substance and go beyond what Americans call “basic skills.” But most teachers have not been given the wherewithal to do that.

Teacher education is done principally in universities, which are not in any sense accountable for the work that their graduates do. Because of the lack of a connection between teacher education and schools, most of the people who do teacher education are not themselves either skilled schoolteachers or teacher educators. Consequently, most of the courses that intending teachers take are not experiences in which one learns how to teach. They are courses in which one learns about teaching. Many of the faculty who teach these courses are interested in something other than teacher education—psychology, curriculum, history, sociology, etc. Teacher education is something like what medical education would be if it consisted almost entirely of courses in anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, with little or nothing about medical practice—which is to say no clinical component.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.