Orin Gutlerner, the director of the Match Teacher Residency, discusses classroom techniques with resident Kyla Brown at Match Community School. -- Charlie Mahoney/Prime for Education Week
"At a certain point, 'skill' became a bad word in teacher education. Skill is critical," said Pamela L. Grossman, a professor of education at Stanford University, who has been studying teacher practices in English and language arts. "At the same time, I'm not interested in preparing teachers just as technicians. Professionals not only understand these skills but why they're using them. They have some principle of teaching and learning on which to hang them."
Match officials are sensitive to such debates, but they believe that a degree of prescription gives new teachers a foundation on which to build.
"I do think that, at some level, the exercises would strike some in the academy as anti-intellectual," Mr. Gutlerner acknowledged. "We are not having residents weigh the evidence asking them to make decisions for themselves about what these practices should look like. We are training people for a job that has a very particular skills set that happens to be nuanced and difficult to master."
That's Ms. Estime's belief, too. "If you can't control a classroom of 18 hyper kids, you are going to be stressed out," she said. "That's what's going to run you out of the building."
Subject by subject
A related issue raised by practitioners and scholars is how particular practices ought to look in the context of different subjects. The practice of having students interact, for example, may look different in language arts, with its focus on critiquing one another's writing, than in mathematics, where error analysis and understanding logical fallacies predominate.
Ms. Kazemi's mathematics classes, for instance, are based on what she calls "routine instructional activities" in that subject: how teachers structure student learning of word problems, number patterns, the relationship of whole numbers in a base-10 system. Once good content units are devised, she said, practices, such as how students should be grouped and managed, fall into place.
"What we've thought about in our math work is that in any lesson or activity that you structure for children, those [instructional] practices are really in relationship to one another," Ms. Kazemi said.
In addition, the question of whether it's possible to scale up new teacher-preparation approaches differs based on context.
One of the Match program's strengths lies in its internal coherence: Nearly all the teachers trained through it go on to work in the network's charter schools, or in others with similar philosophies. As with other "no excuses" charters, Match schools set strong norms for behavior and discipline for students that reinforce what its aspiring teachers learn.
Dylan Kane, an aspiring middle school teacher in the program, believes that most of the tools he's learned would "absolutely transfer" to a noncharter setting. But, he added, the advantage of teaching at such a charter means "certain elements, such as merits and demerits—we can be confident that we'll have those things to work with."
Higher ed tensions
University-based programs face a different set of challenges in devising coherent practice-based programs. They prepare teachers for dozens of districts, and faculty members are typically divided into clinical staff and researchers, not all of whom embrace the more-specific focus on practice.
"It's not only hierarchy, it's autonomy or uniqueness, where what you get rewarded for as a university faculty member is your own work, your own ideas, and your own research," said Magdalene Lampert, a former University of Michigan professor whose research with Ms. Kazemi and others has helped lay the groundwork for some of the university-based practice-oriented programs. "If a novice is going to experience a coherent practice-based program, it needs to be operated by a group of people who can agree with each other."
Ms. Lampert now is a senior adviser to the Boston Teacher Residency. Partly in response to a mixed 2011 research study, that program has put a stronger emphasis on the integration of coursework and fieldwork in its practices by having the same individuals teach courses and supervise aspiring teachers.
Others in the field are still wrapping their heads around the implications of programs like the Match Teacher Residency for universities.
David Monk, the dean of the education school at Pennsylvania State University, praises the quality and the detail of the feedback teachers at the Match program receive. But he acknowledged challenges for noncharter-based programs to adopt some of its techniques.
"There's an interest and a willingness to take these insights pretty seriously and fold it into prevailing practices," Mr. Monk said. "[But] you run into all these real-world constraints. The byproduct of [the No Child Left Behind law], and the focus on exams and performance and accountability, has been a reluctance on the behalf of districts to bring in novices."
Coverage of "deeper learning" that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at www.hewlett.org.