Over the past decades, researchers have drawn new connections between children’s achievement in school and their social and cognitive development. But are prospective teachers aware of how this research might apply to the classroom? A report released last week says “no” and implores policymakers to take action.
The report, The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement, urges policymakers to use the latest findings in developmental science to improve student learning.
“Too little of this knowledge is being used to prepare teachers,” the report says.
The report makes at least 20 recommendations for teacher preparation programs, national accreditation agencies, states, and the federal government. Its recommendations come from a panel of experts commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in 2007.
The panel, for example, calls on education schools to pay attention to the schools where they place student teachers for in-the-field experiences. “Educator preparation programs must identify and select PreK-12 school placements that already reflect an understanding of developmental issues,” the panel’s report says. “At present,” the report says, “there is a dearth of such opportunities.”
The panel urges agencies that accredit teacher programs – including NCATE – to adopt standards compelling programs to provide evidence that teacher candidates have learned about child and adolescent development and can apply what they know. NCATE, the report says, should also address concerns that faculty members in these preparation programs are not well-versed in the principles of child and adolescent development.
States have a role to play too, since they set licensing and certification standards for teachers and design systems to evaluate teachers’ performance. And yet, the report states, “there is little evidence that knowledge of child and adolescent development, or its application, is present in these state evaluation systems.” The panel recommends that states redesign their systems to “make explicit reference to, and include measures of, teachers’ classroom performance” that would show whether teachers are applying a contemporary understanding of child development when they teach.
The report points out that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides an opportunity for including more explicit references to the developmental sciences in teaching and program design. It suggests, for example, that the law should require evidence of effectiveness from professional development programs that train teachers on how to apply developmental principles in the classroom. It also recommends that the definition of highly effective teacher include knowledge and application of the science of child and adolescent development. Competitive grant programs, like Race to the Top, should include explicit references to “knowledge and application of the contemporary developmental sciences knowledge” as well.
These are just a few of the report’s recommendations, many of which provide a sound foundation for moving forward in connecting the latest science to actual practice in the classroom. (For more, see the full text of the policy recommendations as well as two papers from the expert panel. Audio and presentations from a briefing at the National Press Club is also available.)
The next trick may be in turning these recommendations into even more explicit guidance, particularly for policymakers who are not steeped in the science and may have still-fuzzy understandings of what developmental principles exactly are. It’s relatively easy for many people to understand the nature of physical development. You wouldn’t teach a baby to ride a bicycle, for example— until that baby has become a young child who has developed balance, coordination and gross-motor skills. But cognitive and social development, not to mention moral or ethics development, can be harder for the lay person to grasp. Let’s hope that this report can trigger a broader conversation about child and adolescent development, what it means, and what it can teach us.