"We need to move ahead together on two fronts: We must help our K-12 teachers become highly proficient in their subject areas and pay them what they are worth," Haring says. "The immediate challenge, however, will be overcoming both history and culture."
The United States follows an outdated 19th century model of education that separates K-12 schools and higher education, she says.
"We instead need to create an education system that's seamless, where the differences are blurred. The fabric produced will be much stronger," Haring says. "Our country has the finest higher education system in the world. Joining the 'best in the world' with the system that's feeding it is a natural fit that will create better students, who, in turn, will be better-prepared teachers."
The result, Haring predicts, will be increased expectations and higher achievement.
American educational history also shows that colleges and universities have successfully emphasized the process of teaching and focus on the learner in preparing elementary teachers, but sometimes at the expense of strong, in-depth content, Haring says. Conversely, secondary and higher education teacher preparation tends to focus on content rather than teaching methods and the needs of learners.
We need to combine the strengths of both, she says.
"At Purdue we've addressed this issue by requiring future secondary education teachers to major in the discipline -- or content -- they will be required to teach," Haring explains. "They earn a degree from the academic school in which their major is located, but secondary majors also take coursework in adolescent learning and motivation. It's a step more and more universities are taking to see that secondary teachers 'know their stuff' as well as how to stimulate students to think and learn about it."
The cultural challenges are almost as daunting as the historic ones, she says.
"K-12 schools are focused on teaching and learning, while many colleges and universities are concentrating on research and teaching -- in that order," she says. "There are significant differences in pay and status, and college faculty have more academic freedom and privileges like flexible work days."
Higher education also has been known to make the divide even wider by not rewarding faculty who work in K-12 settings. Instead, such clinical activity is denigrated as 'service.'
"This is an area where Purdue has recently taken a major step forward," Haring says. "Our Professional Development Schools Initiative is forging formal partnerships with K-12 schools, and participating university faculty are beginning to earn pay increases and promotions for their efforts."
Finally, K-12 and higher education are often in competition for funding, especially at state-supported colleges and universities such as Purdue. This is another roadblock to building closer links and will likely have to be tackled on a state-by-state basis.
"For many states," Haring says, "the road to the solution can be paved by a united front of universities, teachers and K-12 administrators working closely toward focused goals."
CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336: e-mail, email@example.com
Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
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