The Hidden Curriculum of Performance-Based Teacher Education

Jan. 07, 2008

Source: Teachers College Record. Volume 110 Number 1, 2008, p. 105-138


Purpose/Objective/Research question/Focus of study

This study describes and analyzes the student and faculty experiences of a “performance-based” preservice teacher education program at a large comprehensive university in the mid-Atlantic region. The aim is to understand the “hidden” curricular messages within the program and the ways that these messages interacted with the intended learning outcomes by answering three central questions: 1) What is the hidden curriculum of this teacher education program? 2) How did faculty and preservice teachers in this program experience the hidden curriculum? and 3) How did the hidden curriculum interact with the program’s intended performance-based curriculum? 

Background and context

Despite a growing body of literature that describes the variety of ways that teacher education programs are aligning their curriculum with new performance-based standards, more research is needed to help those concerned with reforming teacher education understand the unique ways that colleges and universities are incorporating performance-based standards and, especially, the ways that these changes are experienced by both the teacher education students and their faculty in these programs. To this end, this study helps reveal the “hidden curriculum” of one performance-based teacher education program. While the use of the hidden curriculum has been used in the past as a theoretical framework to portray “competency-based” programs in the 1960s and 1970s, it has been little used to understand contemporary “performance-based” models.

Research design

A qualitative case study focused on a cohort of thirty preservice teachers and their faculty was conducted at a large comprehensive university over the course of two academic semesters. The data describe the experiences of three undergraduate elementary education students and their five-member faculty throughout the final two academic years of their preparation.


The program’s central hidden curricular message for faculty and students was that superficial demonstrations of compliance with external mandates were more important than authentic intellectual engagement. Program participants frequently made the minimal possible effort to satisfy the requirements of what they perceived as routine, bureaucratized tasks. This study raises cautions for both practitioners and researchers of teacher education concerning the vigor of performance-based reform. This study also reveals some challenges associated with achieving coherent teacher preparation programs and broadens the concept of coherence in ways that take into account the complex intersection of the formal and hidden curriculum.



Updated: Dec. 15, 2008