Teacher Education: Beyond the ‘Policy Problem’

By Professor Diane Mayer, Pro Vice Chancellor, Victoria University

Much has been said in the media in the past week or so about teacher quality prompted by government announcements about new measures for regulating those who study in teacher education programs.

First, the New South Wales Government released a new policy that includes an entry requirement intended to ‘improve the quality of teachers graduating from universities and being employed in Australian schools’. Under the policy, from 2015 universities in New South Wales will only be able to enrol school-leavers who have achieved at least three Band 5, or results over 80 per cent, in at least three subjects, including English, in their Higher School. In addition, it is proposed that preservice teachers will have to pass a literacy and numeracy assessment before their final-year professional experience placement. It is suggested that access to a practicum placement in schools will be used to regulate these requirements.

Soon after the New South Wales Government announcement, the federal government announced that teacher education degrees will have to introduce an improved admissions process potentially including interviews, demonstrated values and aptitude, and a written statement.

This sort of positioning of teacher education as a ‘policy problem’ (cf.Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2005; Grimmett, 2009) and regulation via input measures, though politically expedient and perhaps popularly attractive, is a misguided attempt at quality assurance for teacher education and beginning teaching. The reality is that there is no research evidence that any of these measures improve the quality of graduating teachers. Granted, I agree with Pam Grossman that ‘as researchers and practitioners in the field of teacher education, we seem ill prepared to respond to critics who question the value of professional education for teachers with evidence of our effectiveness’ (2008, p.13). Of course, there are many reasons for this. Major grants are rare in the field of teacher education and consequently teacher educators study their own programs, producing many small-scale but often unconnected studies of teacher education practice. The findings from these studies do not produce convergent findings; indeed they never set out to do so. But, it must be said that teacher education practice has benefited greatly from this research. Teacher educators have learned a lot about how to design and implement teacher education programs. However, while such studies do provide a useful research base for informing teacher education practice, a significant gap remains for high quality, larger scale research into the effect of teacher education, research with which policy makers will engage. As a result, we end up with the current situation – much attention to entry and input measures such as ATAR, tests, aptitude measures, course requirements and so on, none of which have been shown to be linked to teacher effectiveness, however we define and measure effectiveness. I argue that these input measures do not focus the quality question at the point in the learning to teach continuum where teacher education providers should appropriately be accountable – the point of graduation and beginning teaching. Regulation at input suggests that teacher education has no impact.

A focus on outcomes requires us to consider to two things: 1. What is it that effective beginning teachers should know and be able to do? 2. In what ways can graduating teachers demonstrate their professional knowledge and practice, and their impact on student learning?

While we might argue that the new professional teaching standards (Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, 2011b) need further research interrogation and validation if they are to truly capture the nuances associated with teaching in different subject areas and grade levels as well as in different school systems and contexts, the accompanying national system of accreditation (Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, 2011a) does include the requirement that teacher education providers provide evidence that graduates can demonstrate the graduate standards. However, in the main, our current practice of entry to the profession continues, with regulation by state agencies that use input models to make decisions about eligibility for teacher registration. Judgments are made about the quality of a teacher education program usually by paper review involving a panel of stakeholders deciding on the likelihood that the program will prepare an effective beginning teacher. Then, employers and teacher registration authorities use proxies like completion of the accredited teacher education program, grades in university subjects or practicum evaluations and observations of teaching to make a judgment about a graduating teacher’s level of professional knowledge and practice – about their readiness to teach. So, while systems are increasingly arguing for an outcomes-focused approach, the mechanisms by which decisions are made about the effectiveness of graduating teachers still draw on an older inputs-based approach. The recent policy announcements continue this focus on inputs.

If we are to move this, we must consider how we can provide opportunities for graduating teachers to demonstrate the professional knowledge, practice, and engagement captured by the standards. I believe we must turn our attention to authentic capstone assessments of the actual professional practice of teaching in the workplace, incorporating multiple measures and focussed on student learning (e.g.Darling-Hammond, 2006; Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2000; Pecheone & Chung, 2006). Specifically, we need to acknowledge that assessments such as the practicum report do ‘not address important differences in context and content, and they ignore … the influence of teaching on learning’ (Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2000, p.205). By developing authentic capstone assessments linked to the graduate standards, we can assure the profession, regulatory authorities, governments and the community, that we are preparing quality beginning teachers who are able to demonstrate the effectiveness of their professional knowledge and practice in ensuring student learning. That leaves us, as the teacher education experts, to decide on the most appropriate teacher education curriculum so that our graduates are indeed able to demonstrate the professional knowledge, skills and engagement capabilities expected for beginning teaching, in line with the mission and vision of the particular teacher education programs and/or institution.


diane-mayerProfessor Diane Mayer is Pro Vice Chancellor at Victoria University. Her current research and scholarship focuses on the policy and practice of teacher education, examining issues associated with the professionalism of teaching and what that means for the policy and practice of teacher education. Currently, she is lead CI on an ARC Linkage funded project ‘Investigating the effectiveness of teacher education for early career teachers in diverse settings: A longitudinal study’ and leading a DEEWR funded project ‘Longitudinal Teacher Workforce Main Study’.

Diane is chair of the Victorian Council of Deans of Education (VCDE), Board member of the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE), and member of the Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA) executive. In addition, she is editor of two Taylor and Francis/Routledge journals, ‘Teaching Education’ and ‘Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education’.


Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. (2011a). Accreditation of initial teacher education programs in Australia: Standards and Procedures. Carlton, Victoria: Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA).

Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. (2011b). National Professional Standards for Teachers. Carlton, Victoria: Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA).

Cochran-Smith, M., & Fries, M. (2005). Researching Teacher Education in Changing Times: Politics and Paradigms. In M. Cochran-Smith & K. Zeichner (Eds.), Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Assessing teacher education: The usefulness of multiple measures for assessing teacher outcomes. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(2), 120-138.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Snyder, J. (2000). Authentic assessment of teaching in context. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(5-6), 523-545.

Grimmett, P. (2009). Legitimacy and identity in teacher education: a micro-political struggle constrained by macro-political pressures. Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 37(1), 5-26.

Grossman, P. (2008). Responding to our critics: From crisis to opprtunity in research on teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(1), 10-23.

Pecheone, R., & Chung, R. (2006). Evidence in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(1), 22-36.

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