Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Questions for Secretary Duncan

January 05, 2010 2 min read

To the Editor:

As teacher-educators at Teachers College, Columbia University, we want to thank U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for presenting his vision of teacher education in the 21st century, in a speech given at our school this fall (“Duncan Shares Concerns Over Teacher Prep,” Oct. 28, 2009).

In the spirit of inquiry that President Barack Obama urged students to pursue in his speech to schoolchildren at the beginning of the school year, here are some of the questions we would have asked Secretary Duncan, if time had permitted:

1. You speak of teacher education programs that “use data, including student-achievement data, to foster an ethic of continuous improvement for students and teachers.” What other kinds of data might they use?

2. As most state tests are not designed to measure learning from one year to the next, how do you plan to use such measures to assess the effectiveness of teachers and teacher education?

3. You speak about “great teachers” who “literally change the course of a student’s life. They light a lifelong curiosity, a desire to participate in democracy, and instill a thirst for knowledge.” What do you say to the great teachers who feel that the high priority given standardized-test scores has adversely affected their ability to practice great teaching?

4. You call for teacher education programs to provide more “meaningful clinical training and classroom experience” for prospective teachers, yet advocate the expansion of alternative-route programs that have none (American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence certification) or little (for example, Teach For America) of either before their candidates become the teachers of record for some of the nation’s most vulnerable students. Why shouldn’t these students have teachers who have “meaningful clinical training and classroom experience,” too?

5. Alternative routes were developed to provide teachers for high-needs schools, but now, in some cases, these teachers are being hired before new fully certified and even experienced teachers are being considered. What is your response to those demoralized teachers who have spent time and money preparing to teach yet can’t find jobs, while less prepared, often less committed people who have been advantaged by free or reduced tuition for master’s degrees while earning a salary are being given preference in hiring?

6. What incentives can be offered to recruit and retain well-prepared prospective teachers to high-poverty, high-needs schools?

We invite a national dialogue related to the vital work of teacher education.

Hal Abeles, James Borland, Peg Cummins, Renee Darvin, William Gaudelli, Celia Genishi, A. Lin Goodwin, Alexandra Gribovskaya, Linda Hickson, Barbara Hruska, Tom James, Alexander Karp, Michael Kieffer, Jessica Kim, Robert Kretschmer, Susan Masullo, Ellen Meier, Felicia Moore Mensah, Janet Miller, Celia Oyler, Lee Pogonowski, Jessica Riccio, Russell Rosen, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Sam Shreyar, Laura Smith, Mariana Souto-Manning, Patricia Velasco, Ruth Vinz, Michael Wilson, Karen Zumwalt

Teachers College, Columbia University

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2010 edition of Education Week as Questions for Secretary Duncan

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