Colleges Get Flak for Teacher Training
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Colleges and universities are taking heat over how they do -- or don't -- prepare classroom teachers as states struggle to hire, pay and keep high-quality educators at every school.
College graduates with education degrees are unprepared for the rigors of the classroom, especially in schools with large numbers of poor, minority and special education students, according to a group of governors, state education advisors and experts who met recently to discuss teacher quality.
Teacher quality is one of the largest factors in a student's academic performance, and two bad teachers in a row can be devastating to a student's education, said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), one of 10 governors who attended an education symposium hosted by the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute. Pawlenty and other attendees summarized their discussions during a conference call with reporters this week.
"Too many teachers wash out of the profession each year due to inadequate preparation," Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation, said in prepared remarks to governors. "Education schools, particularly at our public universities, have failed to provide the proper training to prepare teachers," he said. His foundation's goal is to transform public education through better governance, management and labor relations.
The criticisms of teacher training are not new, but the issue has gained urgency because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which will require all classroom teachers to have bachelor's degrees, pass state subject and pedagogy tests and be fully certified in their state by 2006.
Finding enough new teachers to meet those requirements has become a major challenge for school districts, especially in isolated rural areas and urban centers with high numbers of poor and minority children.
The federal Department of Education has extended the teacher deadline for rural school districts by one year. And many states have watered down their definitions of "highly qualified" teachers to meet the federal mandate, said David Shreve, an education analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Minnesota is considering a "super teacher" program that would pay more to high-quality teachers to fill positions at the poorest performing schools a reversal of the current trend, Pawlenty said.
Eric Hirsch, vice president of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, said teacher preparation for urban areas should be more clinical in nature," like a doctor in a teaching hospital."
While colleges and universities generally are producing plenty of elementary school teachers, they are not encouraging enough future teachers to fill chronic shortages in special education and middle and high school mathematics and science, said Judith Rizzo, the Hunt Institute's executive director.
New Jersey is piloting a grant program to encourage teaching candidates to enter the most needed fields of education, said Lucille Davy, education advisor to Gov. James McGreevey (D).
Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) of Arizona said that higher education officials need to sit down with elementary and secondary school leaders to better understand their needs.
No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush's signature domestic policy, also requires states to give reading and mathematics tests to all students in third through eighth grade, plus 10th grade. The law, meant to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children, also mandates penalties for schools that do not meet testing benchmarks for two or more years.
After the second year of the law, more than a quarter of the nation's schools already have missed state testing benchmarks, increasing the pressure on teachers to improve student performance on the tests.
That pressure should translate into changes in how colleges and universities prepare students, Rizzo said. One way that can happen is for states to use the data they collect on student achievement to assess which teachers were successful and received the best college education.
In Ohio, Gov. Bob Taft (R) has initiated a study involving all 51 of the state's colleges and universities to help relate elementary and high school student performance to teacher training.
The outcome of that research should "change the conversation from Gosh, this teacher is good or bad,' to This teacher needs more help in reading comprehension,'" said Taft's education advisor, Susan Bodary.