Duncan to Reiterate Criticisms of Teacher Education

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 22, 2009 2 min read
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan doesn’t appear poised to go easier on schools of education in remarks he’s making this morning at Columbia University’s Teachers College. As you may recall, his remarks earlier this month on the theme caught some flak from the teacher-ed community.

News of this morning’s speech has already hit the wires, and here are some advance remarks we’ve gotten from the Department of Education:

...by almost any standard, many, if not most, of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom. America's university-based teacher-preparation programs need revolutionary change—not evolutionary tinkering."
In my seven years as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and in my current job, I've had hundreds of conversations with great young teachers. And they echo many of the same concerns about ed schools voiced in the Levine report and in earlier decades. In particular they say two things about their training in ed school. First, most of them say they did not get the hands-on teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students. And second, they say there were not taught how to use data to improve instruction and boost student learning."

Duncan does seem to spread the blame for “mediocre” programs a little broader this time. He’ll note that states haven’t really done their part in closing down poor programs, and that universities often treat the programs as “cash cows” and direct resources to more prestigious departments. Teacher tests don’t measure how well teachers actually teach, he adds. And districts often shortchange mentoring programs.

And he’ll compliment the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education for its new reaccreditation standards and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education for getting behind new models, like the teacher-residency programs. And he adds, “I am optimistic that, despite the obstacles to reform, real change is under way.”

Near the end of his speech, he says that strong preparation programs include a “strong, substantial” field experience, a focus on classroom management, and training for candidates on how to review and make use of student-performance data. He plugs the teacher residencies, which the department just spent millions of dollars to promote.

But am I the only one that sees a little bit of tension between the thrust of this speech and the proposed Race to the Top criteria? After all, under those proposals, states would get additional competitive points for having alternative routes to teacher certification. Though alternative routes vary, many of them don’t have all that long of a student-teaching component. By comparison, in the residency model, candidates aren’t the “teacher of record” until after they’ve spent a year under the tutelage of a full-time classroom teacher.

Maybe the administration feels both routes can be successful, but this difference does seem to complicate states’ abilities to hold both types of programs to the same set of high standards.

Are you a professor or dean at a college of education? Are you listening to the speech or watching it in person? Want to share your comments? Post them here, or e-mail me directly at ssawchuk@epe.org.

We’ll also have a full story up for you later today.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.