The student teaching tsunami reaches . . . South Dakota?

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Our finger in the dike doesn't seem to be enough to hold back the student-teaching tsunami from sweeping over the country. Last week, the University of South Dakota's well-funded pilot of a yearlong student teaching experience was given the high-gloss treatment in its hometown newspaper. We have no reason to doubt that the student teachers profiled in the article personally value the year practicing in the classroom, and we're glad to hear that USD's dean looks at student teaching as a way of weeding out those who might not be cut out to be good teachers.

But as we've noted herehere, here and here, there are good reasons to question the vogue for doubling the length of the student teaching experience. Even now, with student teaching placements generally lasting a semester, there simply aren't enough qualified, effective mentor teachers to go around. As teachers and districts are increasingly balking at placing the current load of student teachers, it's hard to see how the model being piloted by USD — and championed by the NEA — can possibly be implemented at scale.

But maybe we should stop trying to hold back the wave and point out the high ground that teacher preparation programs should seek. Take a look at the Rodel Exemplary Teacher Initiative in Arizona. Student teachers in the program — all drawn from traditional teacher preparation programs —  are rigorously screened for academic achievement and success in other field experiences. They are placed for one semester with effective mentor teachers in high-poverty, high-performing schools. Student teachers who stick with teaching in high-poverty schools for three years get a $10,000 savings bond, as do the mentor teachers who participate in the program for three straight years.

Sound expensive? Actually, it's a bargain: even before program participants get licensed, the principals in whose schools they've been working as student teachers judge them to be more effective than most of the experienced teachers in their buildings, and 80% are teaching in high-needs schools three years later. And it's a far better deal than inundating overstretched schools with even more student teaching placements and expecting them to turn out well-prepared teachers.

Arthur McKee