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Published in Print: September 22, 1999, as Riley Urges Leaders To Boost Focus On Teacher Preparation

Riley Urges Leaders To Boost Focus On Teacher Preparation

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College and university presidents can play an integral role in improving teacher-preparation programs by investing in them philosophically and asking their faculties to do the same, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told higher education leaders last week.

"Our colleges of education can no longer be university backwaters, as some have been allowed to become," Mr. Riley said at a gathering here of more than 140 college presidents, association members, and foundation leaders, hosted by the Department of Education on Sept. 15 and 16.

The meeting provided a forum to discuss problems that plague teacher-preparation programs, strategies to help solve them, and ways in which solid higher- education leadership can bring change.

"Improving teacher education will require the attention of your entire institution, and greater coordination between your schools of education, your arts and sciences faculties, and K-12 schools," Mr. Riley said. "Only you have the prestige and clout to press successfully for breakthroughs across traditional boundaries."

For years, many college presidents have treated their schools of education like ugly ducklings, many observers of the field say.

Teacher-preparation programs are far less glamorous than high-tech medical schools or high-powered law programs, they note, and draw significantly less funding from alumni.

Moreover, education programs are often perceived as academically flimsy and as accepting only those students who can't excel in more exacting disciplines.

Given that educators are responsible for preparing the workforce of tomorrow, teacher-preparation programs should instead be the cornerstone of academic institutions, Secretary Riley argued. That means ensuring educators excel in content areas such as mathematics, history, and English.

"Integration [with departments of arts and sciences] is necessary to give new teachers a solid content background," Mr. Riley said. "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire college or university to educate a new teacher."

Getting Experience

Hands-on experience in the classroom is also critical to the success of young teachers, participants here said.

"Too often, [teachers'] exposure in classrooms is limited to three or four weeks," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat who sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. "No wonder there is a huge number of teachers who leave the ranks. We have got to have a more practiced approach," added Mr. Reed, who was one of several conference speakers.

That may mean instituting longer student-teaching placements or partnerships with local districts. Such partnerships are an ideal way to provide the experience needed, and they benefit the communities where schools of education are located, said Margaret Cozzens, the provost of the University of Colorado at Denver, who spoke about her school's partnership programs.

'A Wonderful Opportunity'

College presidents must also ensure that teacher-preparation programs hire the most talented faculty members, said Roderick Paige, the superintendent of the 211,000-student Houston school district and a former education dean at Texas Southern University there.

"One of the biggest problems is that professors have no concept of what's really going on in the public school system," Mr. Paige said.

Many professors have not spent time in urban classrooms in several decades and cannot prepare their students for the challenges that come with population growth and teaching in a multicultural classroom, Mr. Paige said.

Young teachers, he said, arrive "with weak content mastery and the inability to deal with a wide range of diversity."

Recruiting dedicated, well-qualified teachers is hard because working conditions are often difficult and pay is low, said Tom Mooney, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, who spoke at the meeting.

"We have got to try to develop teaching into a real profession," Mr. Mooney said.

The problems are all compounded by impending teacher shortages in at least certain subjects and geographical areas, those at the conference said. And as more and more veteran educators retire, participants said, fewer and fewer role models for young teachers remain.

"In the next 10 years, 2.2 million teachers will have to be hired to meet swelling enrollments and teacher requirements," Secretary Riley said. "The good news is, with millions of new teachers to prepare in the next decade, we've got a wonderful opportunity to get things right--if we begin right now to improve the education of our next generation of teachers," he said.

Vol. 19, Issue 3, Page 22

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