Corrected: The original version of this article contained a misinterpreted word in a quote by Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, in reference to the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Diane Ravitch, no friend of the current state of teacher education, got a standing ovation from an unlikely crowd last week: a roomful of deans and directors gathered here for the annual conference of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
In a speech titled “The Future of Teacher Education in a Hostile Environment,” the New York University professor and noted education historian spoke about what she sees as attempts to cast aside public education.
“Today, we face a situation that can be described as a crisis,” Ms. Ravitch told many of the 2,600 conferees. “People in the past did not say public education needs to be dismantled, but today, there are critics who feel the public education system is obsolete.”
The “crisis talk,” she added, is “used as a rationale to destroy confidence” and to further the argument for privatizing schools.
Ms. Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, called on her audience to make their voices heard collectively on the No Child Left Behind Act, which is due for reauthorization this year, and to prepare high-quality educators.
Your challenge is to prepare teachers who are superb practitioners, that schools boast about hiring them. You have to build a reputation that says our graduates are number one,” she said.
After the speech, Ms. Ravitch, who took questions from the audience, joked: “If someone told me that I’d get a standing ovation at AACTE, I’d have said you’re nuts!”
Ms. Ravitch is the co-author of an education blog that Education Week’s online counterpart, edweek.org, began hosting last week.
Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and policy group, told the deans during a session on the NCLB law that the reauthorization will not be quiet.
“It is going to be a brawl, at times,” said Mr. Jennings, noting that organizations that were excluded the last time, such as the teachers’ unions, will ask for a voice this time around.
“It will be quite a thing to watch,” predicted the former longtime education aide to House Democrats.
AACTE is lobbying for its own changes in the law, including the definition of a “highly qualified” teacher, which, the organization’s officials say, does not require that teachers actually be able to teach. In the future, the association wants the definition to be reserved for those who know their content and are able to teach it effectively.
The organization also wants the law to support the development of student-data systems that will help determine the effectiveness of teachers graduating from preparation programs, and to address the inequities in the distribution of teachers, among other requirements.
Henry L. Johnson, until recently the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, predicted major changes in the reauthorization, including a greater emphasis on high schools, more funding for high schools with large numbers of lower-income students, and an increased effort to close student-achievement gaps.
Said Mr. Johnson: “There is also going to be a tremendous discussion about [school] choice.”
At the gathering, the teacher-college association discussed an innovative idea for its members to consider in helping schools fight teacher shortages: training prospective teachers abroad and importing them to U.S. colleges, where they can receive their credentials to become fully certified in local schools.
At a session on establishing a collaborative teacher education program between India and the United States, Om Pathak, who helped set up several public schools in India, said his country has the world’s largest English-speaking population, and a large number of postgraduates, especially in the fields of mathematics and science, who are trainable and deployable as teachers. Besides, he added, teacher-preparation costs are significantly lower in India than they are in the United States.
He said India now has 900 teacher-training institutions, but that country has severe teacher shortages.
While details of the plan have not been worked out, Mr. Pathak said, the training facility in India would set up Praxis preparation and testing for teacher certification. Praxis is a teaching exam required in some states for certification.
Mwangaza Michael-Bandele, a senior director at AACTE who moderated the discussion, said association leaders are “excited about the collaboration” and are working on how best to make it happen.
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week