In a report released today, the Department of Education outlines its plans for improving U.S. teacher education programs. The report, "Our Future, Our Teachers: A Mini-Blueprint for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement," calls for greater accountability and for grant programs targeted to increase diversity within the teaching corps and to aid states in establishing rigorous certification systems.
WASHINGTON—America's public education system must prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st-century knowledge economy, and our teacher preparation programs have to make sure that classroom educators are ready for that mission—so we are encouraged by the administration's focus on teacher preparation as an important part of strengthening our education system.
There is much that can and should be done to improve teacher preparation programs—but we were surprised that a principal recommendation of the report was to judge the effectiveness of a teacher preparation program by, among other things, the test scores of students being taught by its graduates. At the same time that the validity of using standardized tests as the ultimate measure of performance is being widely questioned, the U.S. Department of Education appears to be putting its foot on the accelerator by calling for yet another use for tests—and one for which they were not designed.
The report also proposes to expand grants to teaching programs and students. Rewarding a few deserving candidates is a fine idea, but this is the time to address the larger structural issues confronting teacher preparation today. We lose half of our new teachers in their first five years of teaching, and better preparation would help reduce that rate. So rather than creating a competition that provides resources to some but not others, our educational policies should foster programs that provide all aspiring teachers the preparation they need to succeed in the classroom.
In 2000, the AFT issued a report decrying the state of teacher preparation and made a number of recommendations; sadly, they have not been implemented widely. The improvements we called for include setting higher entry standards for teacher education programs, instituting core liberal arts classes for all education students, requiring subject-matter majors for education students, developing core pedagogy in key subjects, strengthening clinical-experience programs, imposing higher exit and licensure standards, ensuring that alternative licensure programs meet the high standards, and strengthening teacher induction programs.
Those recommendations have gained broad support among experts in the field, and they stand as a solid foundation to build on as we move forward to truly strengthen teacher education. Last month the AFT announced the establishment of a Teacher Education Task Force to examine what 21st-century teacher preparation programs should look like and to identify what resources they need to ensure that every child has a great teacher.
The challenges we face today to improve teacher quality require a comprehensive approach. Revamping teacher preparation programs is one part of a solution that also must include high-quality induction for new teachers, as well as mentoring and professional development programs that expose beginning educators to the best classroom models and the most skillful practitioners.