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January 2011

From the Director's Office

Teacher Education Expert Ball Leads Discussion on Quality Teaching

"Who the teacher is in the classroom has an enormous impact on kids' opportunities and the chances that they are going to actually learn. [Therefore], finding a way to produce skilled teaching in every classroom is the most important policy problem we face." — Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a renowned expert on teacher education and current dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, recently discussed with IES staff and guests the benefits of focusing on teacher training as a means to produce "responsible" teachers.

During the hour-long discussion, "What is 'Quality' Teaching and How Do We Get It?," Ball explored the policy, research, and design implications for building a system that strengthens teaching practice throughout our nation's schools. Ball noted that quality teaching is best summarized by what she calls "responsible teaching"—teaching that deliberately maximizes the probability that students will learn worthwhile content and skills.

Ball said having responsible teachers in every American classroom would require designing and implementing a common curriculum for teacher training, which currently does not exist.

There are currently two schools of thought to achieving the goal of placing responsible teachers in every classroom—one focuses on teachers while the other focuses on teaching. The first school of thought argues that there should be a focus on selective teacher recruitment and a well-defined system for rewards and sanctions. While Ball said she believes that selectivity and sanctions are important, she said this approach does not address the need to improve the practice of existing teachers in the middle who are neither among the worst or the best in their schools.

Focusing on teaching is the most effective way to produce responsible teachers because it emphasizes training all teachers to teach effectively. Ball argues that teaching should model itself on other highly skilled professions that demand rigorous training and licensing exams, rather than expecting new teachers to start unprepared and just "learn on the job."

Ball's proposed "Core Components of Practice-Centered Training for Teaching" includes developing a core curriculum for teacher learning—defining which specific approaches work best for specific learning practices, determining a benchmark assessment, and identifying a level of licensed practice.

While Ball noted that multiple researchers around the country are studying this effort, she said the field needs a coordinated research and development effort to make practice-centered training for teachers a reality.

View Dr. Ball's Powerpoint presentation from the discussion at