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Teacher Education in Puerto Rico

THREE-YEAR STUDY OF TEACHER EDUCATION IN PUERTO RICO SHOWS SERIOUS PROBLEMS

Government Policies Called 'Obsolete and Restrictive'--A 'Straight-Jacket' for Teacher Education

Teacher education in Puerto Rico is in dire need of reform, according to a major report released September 29 by Teachers College, Columbia University.

According to the three-year study, financed by the General Council of Education in Puerto Rico, the curriculum and teaching strategies of education schools on the Island require major changes. The study blames obsolete and restrictive government policies towards teacher education for a large share of the problems confronting teacher-education institutions.

According to Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, director of the study and professor at Teachers College, "the rigid structure of the teacher certification requirements in Puerto Rico constitutes a straightjacket for the teacher education programs."

Certification requirements include long lists of credits, courses and topics that the prospective teacher must fulfill. As a result, Rivera-Batiz said, "schools of eduation are left with very little flexibility to innovate. A major reform of public policies towards teacher education is required."

In addition to a reform of teacher certification requirements, the study also proposes that the Island introduce a system of internships for teachers. "The idea of an internship is to counter the isolation teachers encounter when they start their first year in the classroom," said Rivera-Batiz, who was born in Puerto Rico.

"Such isolation is the key force in teacher attrition and burnout during their early years in schools." The number of teacher education programs in Puerto Rico has increased rapidly over the last 20 years.

Since 1971-72, the number of such programs has increased from nine to 33. Nevertheless, the study finds that teacher education has sharply declined as a field of study in Puerto Rico's colleges and universities.

Between 1971-72 and 1991-92, the number of graduates in the discipline of education dropped from 4,900 to 2,174. Public universities have suffered the most; their share of all education graduates dropped from 70 percent in 1972-73 to 20 percent in 1991-92.

Although the number of graduates in education has dropped sharply, there is currently an excess supply of teachers in the Island. According to the study, about 35 percent of teacher education graduates during the last few years are not currently employed at teachers. Among those who were not, close to half said they were employed in other fields because they could not find teaching jobs.

In spite of the excess of teachers in general, the study also found shortages of teachers in certain areas of specialization--science, mathematics and English, for example.

Contrary to the perceptions of the public and many experts, the study indicates that, on average, teacher education students do not have academic achievement inferior to that of the overall student population in the Island's colleges and universities.

"The idea that students in schools of education do not perform academically as well as other students in universities is a myth," says Rivera-Batiz, who is director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College. "As a matter of fact, our analysis shows that, in verbal aptitude tests, students who complete their teacher education programs in Puerto Rico perform better than the rest of the university student population."

The study also finds that the quality of students entering teacher education programs is increasing, not declining. In spite of these findings, the study also reports that many students graduating from teacher education programs have serious deficiences in basic skills, such as simple mathematics and technology skills.

This lack of preparation is reflected in the significant fraction of teacher education graduates who do not pass the government's Teacher Certification Examination Battery. In some institutions, only 25 percent of the graduates pass the Certification Battery.

The study finds four main problems facing teacher education programs in Puerto Rico. First, the curriculum appears to be out of line with what students perceive are their future needs in the classroom.

For example, 70.2 percent of students in teacher education programs declared that teaching techniques to deal with discipline problems in the classroom are very important. Yet, only 41.1 percent said their programs gave equal importance to these teaching skills.

The report recommends that the curriculum of teacher education institutions be overhauled to give more importance to dealing with the actual, practical problems students confront in today's classrooms.

A second major problem found by Teachers College researchers is the lack of contact between universities and their students once they graduate. Almost half of teacher education graduates sampled by the study said they were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the contact that the programs maintain with them.

To reduce the shock encountered by novice teachers when they enter the classroom, the study recommends an internship system be established as a certification requirement. Inadequate resources constitute a third problem confronting teacher education institutions in Puerto Rico.

According to the report, only 15 percent of the professors in schools of education have a personal computer in their office. Limited resources is a problem prominent in the areas of science and English, where the lack of laboratories prevents appropriate teaching of these disciplines. It also plays a major role in limiting faculty research activities, one of the major problems uncovered by the study.

The report proposes that the government establish competitive grant programs to support education research, especially research involving collaborations between schools and universities.

The fourth key difficulty found by the study lies in public policy towards teacher education. The study is highly critical of current certification requirements in Puerto Rico, which limit the ability of programs to innovate and experiment with changes in the curriculum.

The study recommends that the Department of Education in the Island reform its certification requirements.

The study, completed during the summer by researchers from Teachers College in collaboration with researchers from the College Board in Puerto Rico, was released at a conference held at the Sands Hotel in Puerto Rico. The report is in Spanish and the conference was sponsored by the General Council of Education.

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