college of education | spring 2001
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International Education |
Article 3 |
For years, Associate Professor Lynn Paine had followed closely the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Paine, an expert on the Chinese educational system, was struck by the power of the influential study to galvanize public attention on the problems in U.S. mathematics and science education.
Yet there seemed to be something missing.
While TIMSS was invaluable for the light it shed on mathematics and science education throughout the world, it didnt address how the teachers in the various countries learned to teach the way they did.
My worry was that people would look at TIMSS achievement data and say Well, Singapore did well. We want to be like that, Paine said. But the way Singapore teachers come to teach the way they do isnt clear at all. The curriculum was a big piece of it, but I was willing to bet that it wasnt the only thing.
We knew virtually nothing about how teachers came to teach the way they did in these countries.
So Paine teamed with researchers at the National Center for Improving Science Education (NCISE) on a proposal to study how educational systems in France, New Zealand, Shanghai, China, and Switzerland support beginning middle-grade math and science teachers.
Paines MSU team has focused on math teachers in Shanghai and France and the NCISE team has studied science teachers in New Zealand and Switzerland.
Although the three-year study is still ongoing, preliminary findings have already provided researchers some deep contrasts between the way novice teachers are supported in places like Shanghai and the U.S.
There are terrific examples of teacher induction programs at schools, districts and even a few states in this country, Paine said. But they tend to be isolated. The norm remains giving new teachers the keys to the classroom and forcing them to sink or swim. When there is a formal induction policy in place, as increasingly is the case in the U.S., it tends to narrowly define what teachers need help on and how they can get that help.
This is not the case in Shanghai.
Paine and her research team, which includes professors Dan Chazan and Suzanne Wilson and doctoral student Yanping Fang, have found a more intensive and systematic approach to teacher induction.
For instance, Shanghais teacher induction system involves three levels ranging from the municipal education bureau to the various districts and, ultimately, the individual schools. Although each has unique functions, Paine has found a tight alignment when it comes to helping novice teachers.
The schools provide intensive mentoring for new teachers, and the districts offer a planned curriculum of workshops and study groups over the new teachers first year. Meanwhile, the municipal bureau sets policy requirements and licensing standards for the induction of new teachers.
Paine points out that by involving the municipal bureau, induction in Shanghai is system-wide instead of focused on high-achieving or prosperous districts.
Teacher induction activities at the school level have also provided the researchers with some contrasts to the U.S. It is rare for an American teacher, for example, to be observed by another teacher and discuss ways to improve instruction in a subject.
But in Shanghai, Paine and her colleagues have found that this kind of feedback is part of the induction process. New teachers in Shanghai are periodically asked to teach a best possible lesson and observed by experienced teachers. The experienced teachers then critique the novices instructional practices and classroom management, and discuss the best ways to help children learn the concepts in the lesson.
The researchers have also found that in Shanghai and in other countries in the study, educators are much more proactive in helping new teachers learn some of the basic professional skills. New teachers, for example, are taught such things as communication with parents about their childrens progress, and daily and long-term planning of a lessons content, as part of their induction programs.
Most U.S. induction efforts, the researchers note, only deal with basic professional skills when there is a problem.
For Paine, the research is providing a fascinating look at how other countries view the learning of novice teachers. She is convinced that there are lessons that American education can learn from these countries.
The two teams will complete the study this year, she said, and plans are to publish one and possibly two books based on the cases on mathematics and science teacher induction they have compiled.
In Shanghai and the other countries, we have sought to understand the nature of the support novice teachers receive, and how that support is established system-wide, Paine said. Given that focus, I think it has importance to the U.S. because while there are individual districts and schools that have terrific support for new teachers, it isnt true across the board. By studying the cases as system-wide examples, the research might shed light on the challenges to and supports for implementing broad-based support for novice teachers.
I think one of the
great virtues of comparative education is in the way it forces us to
question our assumptions and recognize things we might never have seen had
we not looked at other examples around the world.