ERIC Identifier: ED330677
Publication Date: 1991-00-00 
Author: Strom, Sharon
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education Washington DC. 

The Knowledge Base for Teaching. ERIC Digest. 

Critical decisions about the (a) content and structure of teacher education, (b) policies and procedures for demonstrating the quality of programs, (c) standards used in evaluating teachers, and (d) systems for assessing and certifying professional competence all depend, in part, on the way this question is answered. Thus, the significance of understanding the issues involved in defining the knowledge base cannot be overemphasized. 

At one level, concern about the knowledge base focuses on improving the respect and status accorded teaching, thereby making it a more rewarding career (Shulman, 1987). In this regard, the professionalization of teaching depends on showing that teaching, like other learned professions, requires mastery of a specialized body of knowledge that is applied with wisdom and ethical concern. 

Beyond the interest in achieving professional status, questions about appropriate knowledge imply the need for serious deliberation in the professional community about (a) the types of knowledge required and relationships among the categories identified, (b) conceptual frameworks for organizing and using knowledge and (c) the modes of inquiry used in creating and validating knowledge claims in the field. In this way the intellectual and socio-political aspects of the field would be complementary. 

This means that the process of determining the knowledge base is communal, i.e., conceptual frameworks, and the norms for judging them, are created and recreated socially. Changes occur with new insights and evaluations through the cooperative efforts of the entire community. Although leaders in the field usually initiate this process, they seek mutuality of understanding within the community. Similarly, attempts to resolve differences in perspective require critical reflection and discussion of alternative conceptualizations, both their limits and possibilities (Valli & Tom, 1988). 

In keeping with this tradition, several knowledge base frameworks have emerged recently, including two sponsored by national organizations for teacher education. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) released the Knowledge Base for Beginning Teachers (Reynolds, 1989) and the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) released the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (Houston, 1990). 


Current discussions reflect several perspectives and historical concerns that have surrounded attempts to define the knowledge base. As Edelfelt suggested in 1980, the problem of finding some basis for agreement about the definition and organization of the professional knowledge base remains as one of the major challenges facing the field. 

Addressing dilemmas related to conceptualization, Griffin (1983) noted that some scholars question the legitimacy of defining "essential" knowledge in teaching, maintaining that adequate definition depends on the ends considered desirable--a matter of judgment, not science. In contrast, others argued that, properly understood, the knowledge base is a framework that consists of several different types of knowledge, including statements about valued ends and the methods used in evaluating or justifying them (Shulman, 1986 & 1987). 

Ayers (1988) posed the problem of scope of definition, expressing concern about defining the knowledge base too narrowly and ignoring context, or too broadly and losing clarity and precision. According to Edelfelt (1980), even if there could be agreement on the essential knowledge and skills involved, these understandings would not apply in all teaching situations, given the variations in schools, pupils, faculties, resources, and administrative leadership. 

Similarly, several educators cautioned against an overemphasis on empirical evidence as the sole basis for knowledge about teaching. This parallels concerns about the technical orientation that dominates the professions and current efforts to improve teacher education (Cornbleth, 1986; Henderson, 1988; Schon, 1983). These educators pointed out that results from interpretive and critical studies provide knowledge about other significant aspects of teaching, such as the moral, aesthetic, political, and personal dimensions (Kirk, 1986; Liston & Zeichner, 1987). According to Lather (1986), the failure to include this type of knowledge distorts and limits understanding of teaching. From this view, knowledge about teaching is not separate from actual practice; it is coextensive. Rather than draw from a "storehouse" of knowledge discovered by outside experts, such practical knowledge is created by the teachers themselves (Ayers, 1988). 

Finally, still others have concerns that extend beyond questions about the content of the knowledge base. At issue are alternative patterns or frameworks for organizing the professional knowledge base (Shulman, 1988). Starting from distinctions between two conceptions of the knowledge base--an "expert system" in a computer program versus the "expert" who possesses the knowledge, history, and rules needed to perform a complex task--Shulman identified several images of how to organize the store: the knowledge base as encyclopedia, library, handbook, manual, or case book. 


A well-defined and organized knowledge base might give added impetus to calls for change in the curriculum and structure of SCDEs, resulting in substantially different preservice and beginning teacher programs (Krajewski, Mayfield, & Walden, 1979; Smith, 1982). Furthermore, this could lead to the development and use of "state of the art" standards, materials, and techniques (Gardner, 1989). For instance, recently, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 1985) adopted a standard requiring its members to ground their programs on "established and current research and essential knowledge of sound professional practice" (p. 15). Adherence to this standard and other standards requires that faculties address knowledge base questions. 

If teacher educators agree on the knowledge needed and the rigor with which it is to be incorporated in teacher preparation, these developments might lead to added course content and experiences that extend beyond the current four-year programs (AACTE, 1983; Howey & Zimpher, 1986). 

Obviously, there is much work to do in resolving these issues and determining the adequacy of frameworks that evolve over time. According to Valli & Tom (1988) teachers and teacher educators can use five criteria to evaluate the extent to which conflicting conceptions of the knowledge base actually inform practice: Are the different types of knowledge included derived from disciplined inquiry? Are multiple perspectives of teaching and schooling included? Is the interdependence of the technical and normative aspects of teaching explained? Is the framework meaningful and useful to teachers? Does it encourage reflective judgment and action? 


References identified with an EJ or ED number have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should be available at most research libraries; documents (ED) are available in ERIC microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents can also be ordered through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800) 443-3742. For more information contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 293-2450. 

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (1983). Educating a profession: Extended programs for teacher education. Washington, DC: AACTE. ED 236 139. 

Ayers, W. (1988). Fact or fancy: The knowledge quest in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 39(5), 24-29. EJ 384 749. 

Cornbleth, C. (1986). Ritual and rationality in teacher education reform. Educational Researcher, 15(4), 5-14. EJ 335 358. 

Edelfelt, R. A. (1980, October 7). Redesigning teacher education. In: conference on operation proteach, Report No. II. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida. ED 213 680. 

Gardner, W. E. (1989). Preface. In M. C. Reynolds (Ed.), Knowledge base for the beginning teacher, (ix-xii). Oxford: Pergamon Press. ED 312 247. 

Griffin, G. A. (1983). The dilemma of determining essential planning and decision-making skills for beginning educators. In: D. C. Smith (Ed.), Essential knowledge for beginning educators (pp. 16-22). Washington DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. ED 237 457. 

Houston, W. R., Ed. (1990). Handbook of research on teacher education: A project of the Association of Teacher Educators. New York: Macmillan. ED 318 747. 

Henderson, J. (1988). A curriculum response to the knowledge base reform movement. Journal of Teacher Education, 39(5), 13-17. EJ 384 747. 

Howey, K. R., & Zimpher, N. L. (1986). The current debate on teacher preparation. Journal of Teacher Education, 37(5). 41-49. EJ 343 155. 

Kirk, D. (1986). Beyond the limits of theoretical discourse in teacher education: Towards a critical pedagogy. Teaching and Teacher Education, 2(2), 155-167. EJ 344 613. 

Krajewski, R. J., Mayfield, R. J., & Walden, J. C. (1979). Building a preservice education knowledge base. Journal of Teacher Education, 30(5), 29-31. EJ 213 565. 

Lather, P. (1986). Research as praxis. Harvard Educational Review, 56(3), 257-277. EJ 342 119. 

Liston, D. P., & Zeichner, K. M. (1987). Critical pedagogy and teacher education. Journal of Education,. 169(3), 117-137. EJ 375 760. 

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (1985, April). NCATE Redesign. Washington, DC: NCATE. 

Reynolds, M. C., Ed. (1989). Knowledge base for the beginning teacher. Oxford: Pergamon Press. ED 312 247. 

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. 

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14. EJ 330 821. 

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22. EJ 351 846. 

Shulman, L. S. (1988, February). Pedagogical processes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, New Orleans. 

Smith, D. C. (1982, May 4). The content in teacher education programs. Paper presented at the Conference on the Future of Teacher Education: Needed Research and Practice. College Station, TX. ED 217 029. 

Valli, L., & Tom, A. R. (1988). How adequate are the knowledge base frameworks in teacher education? Journal of Teacher Education, 39(5), 5-12. EJ 384 746. 

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