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Published in Print: September 23, 1998, as Riley, Goals Panel Take Aim At Promoting Teacher Quality

Riley, Goals Panel Take Aim At Promoting Teacher Quality

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As school systems face the challenge of record-high enrollments along with concerns about current or predicted teacher shortages, education policy leaders are urging states not to lose sight of the need to improve instruction.

In a strongly worded back-to-school speech last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said he worries that "we are missing the mark when it comes to preparing the next generation of teachers."

Districts are too often meeting their needs by hiring untrained educators with emergency licenses and by assigning teachers to work outside their subject areas, he said.

"Too many school districts are sacrificing quality for quantity to meet the immediate demand of putting a warm body in front of a classroom," Mr. Riley told a Sept. 15 gathering at the National Press Club in Washington. "This is a mistake."

'Content Not Enough'

The issue of teacher quality drew much attention to Massachusetts this past summer following reports that about half the prospective teachers there did not pass what was described as a basic-skills test required for certification. The fallout continued last week as the state school board approved the drafting of a plan that would eventually decertify any education school program in which 20 percent of would-be teachers failed the test.

For More Information

The complete list of promising examples of state and local initiatives from the National Education Goals Panel is available under "News and Events" at the group's Web site:

Although Mr. Riley advocated in his address that education schools give aspiring teachers basic-skills tests before accepting them, he recommended that policymakers take a more comprehensive approach toward improving teacher quality. He encouraged education schools to focus less on theory and to form stronger links to local public schools.

"Knowing your content is not enough," he said. "There is a skill and craft to it all."

Mr. Riley further called for "some type of national job bank" to help in hiring new teachers, loan-forgiveness programs and increased tuition aid for education students, and more flexible policies allowing teachers to transfer their certification from state to state.

The secretary also released a report highlighting state and local efforts to keep the focus on improving instructional quality. "Promising Practices: New Ways to Improve Teacher Quality," the result of an 18-month review, describes model programs in teacher preparation and licensure, induction for new teachers, professional development, and teacher incentives.

Goals Panel Push

Many of Mr. Riley's comments echoed a call earlier this year by the National Education Goals Panel, on which the secretary sits. In what was an unusually assertive move for the 8-year-old panel, the group wrote to some 300 state policymakers, urging them to strengthen the ties between their states' teacher preparation programs and their student standards.

"Unequivocally, in the training of teachers, this is absolutely essential," Emily Wurtz, a senior education associate for the goals panel, said in an interview last week. "It makes no sense for teachers to not know what their students are supposed to know and be able to do."

Yet, when the panel set out to examine exemplary programs that make such ties, it concluded, as its letter said, that "explicit links with standards for what students should know are far too rare."

Despite the dearth, the panel did find enough to recommend a few model programs, some of which are also in "Promising Practices." The Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education, for example, is a cooperative venture of the local teachers' union, school district, and college of education that trains new educators in how to implement Ohio's standards for student performance.

The letter-writing campaign represents a shift to a more active role for the federally funded panel. The group has promoted the cause of higher standards mostly through its published reports, particularly its annual assessment of states' progress in meeting the national education goals set earlier this decade.

But with North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. leading the group last year, the panel began looking at ways to be more than a provider of benchmarks, said its executive director, Ken Nelson. Formed after the 1989 national education summit in Charlottesville, Va., the panel includes six governors, four members of Congress, and four state lawmakers, in addition to Mr. Riley.

"They really wanted us to be more proactive," Mr. Nelson said of the panelists. "To not just put out goals and progress reports, but to also put out some positive practices to show how to meet them."

Vol. 18, Issue 3, Pages 14-15

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