baccalaureate program (excluding student teaching) can account for no more than 18 semester hours. Other states, such as New York, have moved to a required five-year program, thereby ensuring that candidates have strong preparation in a major followed by a coherent teacher preparation program. In addition, a recent report from the American Federation of Teachers (2000) recommended that education for prospective teachers be organized as a five-year process at a minimum. Clearly, some policymakers believe that teachers’ knowledge of content in a subject area is important to successful teaching and to successful student learning, although how this is put into practice and interpreted varies widely among the states.
It is important to keep in mind that when one examines the evidence of what it takes to teach science or mathematics well, increasing the teaching of content alone, without regard to how and in what context that content is taught, is insufficient. For example, the knowledge base in many fields of science, mathematics, and technology is growing and changing so rapidly that specific content that a student learns during preparation for teaching may be out-of-date or may need to be revised substantially by the time that person begins teaching. Teaching prospective teachers content knowledge without helping them also to understand how to keep abreast of developments in their subject area cannot lead to effective teaching of these disciplines.
Science and mathematics educators agree that strong content preparation is necessary but also look at the way that content is taught. The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996a) state
Teachers of science will be the representatives of the science community in their classrooms, and they form much of their image of science through the science courses they take in college. If that image is to reflect the nature of science as presented in the standards, prospective and practicing teachers must take science courses in which they learn science through inquiry, having the same opportunities as their students will have to develop understanding.
The recently released content or “core” standards from the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC, 1999) reinforce this recommendation by specifying that teachers of science and mathematics need to understand content as well as know how to apply that content in problem-solving and inquiry-based situations in the classroom. The principles from INTASC’s Core Standards state further that all beginning teachers in science should have more laboratory experience than they can acquire through the lab-oriented courses currently offered to prospective teachers at many colleges and universities as shown in Table 3-1.