Raising up the profession by raising the bar on teacher prep

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When we set out to review the country's 1,400 or so schools of education — the institutions responsible for training almost 200,000 new teachers per year — we didn't think it would be easy. Until now, this multi-billion dollar sector of higher education, whose graduates go on to teach 1.5 million students every year, has largely escaped public scrutiny. There are some signs that our effort is sparking a serious dialogue on how we can best ready new teachers to help their students achieve. It's too bad that discussion around the review has at times devolved into name-calling.

Here are the facts about the review:

  1. The principles of our review are the same ones laid out in a 2010 National Research Council report on teacher preparation. Programs training teachers should choose reasonably smart people, make sure they know the subjects they will teach and provide them with structured opportunities to learn their craft. The 18 standards by which we assess teacher prep have been vetted by a technical panel, which includes state superintendents, education experts and teacher educators.
  2. We are proud that 50 funders, large and small, from around the country have invested in the review. 115 district superintendents, who hire the graduates of teacher prep programs and are held responsible for how well they do in their classrooms, have endorsed our effort. 11 state school chiefs and 22 education-focused non-profit organizations have also signed on in support thus far.
  3. Last year, we issued a report on student teaching, teacher prep's capstone experience where aspiring teachers practice teaching in real classrooms. We examined programs at randomly selected institutions around the country looking for evidence that programs chose mentor teachers who were effective teachers themselves and had qualifications to supervise a novice. Only 14 percent did so. If you were the parent of a child with a new teacher, wouldn't you want that teacher to have learned from a pro?
  4. All teacher preparation programs are publicly approved to prepare teachers for public schools, and as such should be transparent to the public. Currently, two-thirds of the teacher preparation programs at public universities, including heavyweights such as the University of Michigan, Penn State University and the University of Virginia, are working with us to provide the data we need for the review.

Everyone wants teachers to be accorded the respect that is their due. To get there, let's take a lesson from countries that out-perform us educationally, countries like Finland, Singapore and South Korea — where, not coincidentally, the teaching profession is held in the highest esteem. These countries took a long hard look at the institutions training their teachers and made sure they were highly selective, academically rigorous and eminently practical. Preparation that honors the incredibly difficult challenge of teaching — that's our vision, and it's the way to make sure that our students get the very best teachers.

Arthur McKee

A modified version of this post appeared on Daily Kos.