By the middle of the 20th century in America, the teaching profession was undergoing rapid changes. Starting in 1955, public school teachers in Oregon were required to have a four-year degree. (Prior to that, it was common for teachers to have only two years of college coursework.) At the time it was rare for K-12 educators to have graduate-level preparation, but anticipating the need for an increasingly professionalized education workforce, Lewis & Clark began offering master’s degrees in education in 1947.
In 1957, the college earned accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which had been founded only three years before to raise the quality of preparation for teachers. Accreditation verifies that teacher candidates know their subjects and how to teach them effectively.
In 1964, Lewis & Clark joined with nine other colleges in the Oregon Program, a major Ford Foundation-funded initiative to catalyze education changes in the state. An important outgrowth of the program was the widespread adoption of the internship model of preparing teachers. Based on the medical internship model, novice teachers were required to spend significant time in classrooms under the supervision of master educators. The following year, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) was formed, creating the nation’s first independent system for teacher certification, which reflected the growing professionalization of teaching in the accreditation era. At this time, fully one third of all Lewis & Clark students graduated with either a major in elementary education or having completed the requirements for the Oregon Teaching Certificate in Secondary Education.
A decade later, there were over 1,200 students in the “graduate division” at Lewis & Clark, which had grown to offer master’s degrees in music, music education, special education/hearing impairment, counseling psychology, and public administration.
In the 1980s, a countrywide discussion about the state of public education in America was sparked by the publication of Nation at Risk, a report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education. It declared that high schools were failing to “impart enough academic skills and knowledge to their pupils.” In 1985, Lewis & Clark was the only liberal arts college in the nation to receive a three-year grant from the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement to examine and apply the most current research on teaching and teacher education. This research served as the basis for modifying teacher preparation programs and established the five-year, master’s-level student teaching program for beginning teachers. From this point forward, all beginning teachers at Lewis & Clark earned master’s degrees instead of bachelor’s degrees, learning evidence-based practices that emphasize a constructivist teaching philosophy. In 1988, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program became the first in the state approved by TSPC to begin accepting candidates preparing for teaching high school language arts, social studies, and science under Oregon’s new, more rigorous standards.
The debate over public education and school reform kindled by Nation at Risk has continued well into the 21st century, with the emergence of charter schools; high-stakes, outcomes-based learning assessments (which culminated with the passage of federal policy including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top); and pushes to improve teacher training. Persistent attention was focused on schools’ limited success in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students in particular. In 2005 Oregon became the first state in the nation to require that school leaders demonstrate knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to equity and cultural competence, in part to address the achievement gap. In 2010, Oregon followed many other states in adopting national Common Core State Standards, which profoundly change how subjects like math and language arts are taught, and again shift the paradigm for how teachers are prepared for their work.
Attitudes toward and expectations of teachers have evolved dramatically in the almost 150 years since Lewis & Clark began preparing educators. One of the most important changes has been a shift toward understanding educators as deeply knowledgeable professionals, whose practices are constantly maturing in response to the best available knowledge and research, and who are able to respond to the wide-ranging needs of children and families. Today, that means Lewis & Clark’s graduates are equipped not only to teach but to advocate for all children—including those from diverse cultural, linguistic, and economic backgrounds and those who have special needs.