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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


Policy Perspectives on Language Teacher Education

Denise McKeon, National Education Association

Educational accountability, higher test scores, standards - these are the watch words of education in the latter part of the century. As political and social pressures mount on schools to produce students who can achieve higher academic standards, all eyes are on teachers to "deliver the goods."

In my talk today, I would like to focus on professional support systems that shore up teachers in this new and challenging environment, particularly professional associations - often an invisible, but potentially influential player in policy environments. My examples will be drawn from the US, but I believe that many implications can be drawn for professional organizations operating outside the US, as well.

It used to be that professional associations played a much more defined role in the lives of their members - serving as a gathering place (whether in print or in person) for professionals to come together and share ideas. These organizations helped advance disciplinary discussions - conversations among a rather closed group of individuals who unveiled new research findings, tried out new theoretical stances and initiated some advances in practice (albeit with much less success in this arena than in the first two). Professional organizations served as a launching pad for academic careers - with rewards for participation accruing primarily to those working in scholarly and academic environments. They often provided one of the few systematic opportunities for practitioners and researchers to interact. More recently, most organizations had also begun to interact with the policy-making process - reacting to and in some rare cases, initiating legislation and rule-making in the federal arena.

This situation changed rather dramatically in 1989, with the publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' (NCTM) standards. The national education policy environment at the time was highly charged - the President and the nations' governors had just convened a summit in Charlottesville, VA to promulgate a set of national education goals. Education quickly rose to the top of federal and many state level policy agendas. Although educators seemed happy (and somewhat stunned) by the attention suddenly being heaped on education. Not since the 1960s had education enjoyed such debate and public interest. A second summit of the nation's governors and corporate executives held in 1996, only served to reinforce the premiere position education continued to hold in policy circles.

With a spotlight shining on education, policy-makers at all levels seized the opportunity to put themselves front and center - in the light being cast on education. If that's where the public's attention was riveted, that's where the policy-makers wanted and needed to be. This is not to impugn the motives of policy-makers, who also sensed an urgency to attend to public education - something that educators had been talking about for years. But, clearly, the time was right for policy-makers to make the education issue one of their own.

Professional associations (the content and disciplinary organizations such as NCTM) and other education organizations (such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council on Basic Education, and the College Board) scrambled - policy initiatives emerged on many fronts to make schools more accountable, with some of these initiatives well-informed by the extant research, others not. From homework to smaller class size, from technology to the call for "world-class standards," the policy agenda moved forward at lightning speed, with professional associations and organizations often left on the sidelines, talking to one another, shaking their collective heads.

In this highly charged atmosphere, do professional associations, especially those professional associations of language teachers have a role to play? How might that role be different from the role such associations played in the past? Where are language teachers in this mix? How might associations become more active players in the education of language teachers, both from a policy and practical perspective?

My presentation will examine new arenas of involvement for the professional associations of language teachers - and will outline strategies that will help ensure the continued survival and relevance of professional associations in the lives and education of language teachers.


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Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414