The elephant in the teacher prep room

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Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College and current head of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, argues that the single best thing states could do to raise the overall quality of new teachers would be to shutter poor performing traditional teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities. NCTQ certainly agrees that would have a huge impact. But that only begs the question: why haven't states taken this step yet? 

Levine seems to suggest that policymakers and philanthropists have gotten distracted by high-profile alternative pathway programs while ignoring the elephant in the room. He's certainly right about the numbers: Around 190,000 teachers graduate from traditional teacher prep programs every year, almost 20 times as many teachers as come through Teach for America and The New Teacher Project's Teaching Fellows programs annually.

But it's not clear why the emergence of non-traditional programs would make it so difficult for states to take action against the main suppliers of teachers. The sad fact is that the standards that govern program approval— standards which teacher educators have had a huge hand in writing— make it virtually impossible to discriminate between good and bad programs. And when the bureaucrats charged with applying these standards face opposition from well-connected institutions of higher education intent on preserving their cash-cow education schools — well, it's no wonder poor-performing programs get a pass.

Transparency and publicity about teacher prep quality are the best spurs to action. If policymakers begin to see that they can and should get credit for sanctioning poor programs, then states will begin to do what they must to make sure fewer new teachers come to class unequipped to help their students learn.

Arthur McKee