To the Editor:
Linda Darling-Hammond and David Haselkorn’s Commentary “Reforming Teaching: Are We Missing the Boat?” (April 1, 2009) is right on the mark. Unless we improve the quality of the nation’s teacher-preparation programs, we cannot improve American education.
Now is the time to act to accomplish this goal. In addition to a president who has identified education as one of his top priorities, we have an education secretary, Arne Duncan, who led one of the country’s largest school districts and has a reputation for getting things done; national teachers’ unions that support higher standards for new teachers; and a $5 billion pot of stimulus money at the secretary’s disposal for educational improvement initiatives.
We could use federal fiscal-stabilization funds—and all future funds—to provide unlimited professional development for experienced teachers, reduce class size, spend large sums on teacher-retention programs, extend the school year into the summer months, and even increase starting teachers’ salaries to get the brightest college graduates into teaching. But such expensive efforts would never end, because there would be a constant flow of new teachers who would need the same supports and programs.
Effective teachers are not born, they’re made—through quality preparation. And as Ms. Darling-Hammond has said before, teacher preparation takes place at approximately 1,200 schools of education nationwide, but of these programs, fewer than 300 are held in high regard by those in the field.
The push to review the way we prepare new teachers must come from the highest level: the president. He should convene a commission with representatives of the teachers’ unions, higher education, and public school practitioners. The $5 billion pot given to Secretary Duncan could be used to fund this commission’s work and to implement the early stages of its findings. The commission should be given no more than one year to make its recommendations, so that the $5 billion could be spent as early as the 2010-11 school year.
The future requires a high-quality teacher in every classroom. National leadership and the money are in place. Just as we expect for our children, a high-quality education is what our teachers need.
Marc F. Bernstein
Valley Stream Central High School District
Valley Stream, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Education Week as Suggestions for Improving Teacher Preparation