Education Funding Opinion

NEA President Sends Mixed Messages about Teacher Preparation

By Anthony Cody — December 23, 2011 3 min read
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I just don’t get it. A few short weeks ago, the National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel released a “Three Point Plan for True Education Reform.” The first point of this plan is “raising the bar for entry” into the teaching profession.

THE FIRST STEP in transforming our profession is to strengthen and maintain strong and uniform standards for preparation and admission. More than 1.6 million new teachers are expected to enter the profession within the next decade, and we must ensure that they are effective practitioners before they are assigned as teachers of record.

The plan suggests two concrete things:

Every teacher candidate should have one full year of residency under the supervision of a Master Teacher before earning a full license.


Every teacher candidate should pass a rigorous classroom-based performance assessment at the end of his or her candidacy.

These would be solid achievements.

This week, Dennis Van Roekel undermined his own message by choosing to co-author with Teach For America CEO Wendy Kopp this “Column: 3 ways to improve the USA’s teachers.”

Here, the first item on the list has changed. No longer is there discussion of “raising the bar for entry,” or a year of full residency. Here, the first item is “Use data to improve teacher preparation.” In other words, judge teacher preparation programs by the test scores of the teachers they produce. Do we really want this? One more piece of leverage aimed at pressuring schools of education to tow the line and encourage their students to teach to the test? Teach For America figured this out years ago, and a visit to a TFA classroom will reveal the posters on the wall tracking student test scores, and exhortations to reach the big goal of 80% mastery.

The column states, “Unfortunately, not all teachers are getting the high-quality preparation they need to excel with students in the classroom.”

Unfortunately indeed.

Does Mr. Van Roekel believe that Teach For America’s five or six week long training is adequate preparation?

Teach For America is on the verge of a major expansion into new territories. We heard a month ago about concerns being raised in Huntsville, Alabama, where the school board voted to spend $1.7 million to bring Teach For America teachers to the District. More recently, we are hearing similar concerns raised in Ohio, where more than $2 million in grants will pay for “at least 30" TFA teachers. These funds will not cover the teachers’ salaries, which are paid by the local districts, which also must contribute several thousand dollars per teacher for training costs.

One question I have is about the structure of these expenditures.
When ideas like the residency model described in the NEA’s three point plan are discussed, the objection is heard that the cost would be prohibitive. But let’s consider what is being spent for these TFA teachers. If forty TFAers wind up in Ohio schools next fall, TFA will have received in excess of $50,000 per teacher. And apparently this $2 million in grants was needed over and above the $50 million TFA received from the Department of Education, and the more than $100 million received in the past year from corporate philanthropists like the Walton Family and the Broad Foundation.

If we have this kind of money to spend to get people into high poverty schools, why are we choosing a short cut program like Teach For America? Why choose people to invest in who only make a two-year commitment to our classrooms, and 80% of whom are gone after three years? Why not instead invest in people who INTEND to be teachers as a career, give them in depth training, and demand a longer commitment in exchange for support?

I could perhaps understand the reason for co-authoring a column with Ms. Kopp if Mr. Van Roekel had convinced her to sign on to a better vision for teacher preparation - such as point number one above -- raising the bar for entry. But it looks as if the exact opposite has happened. Mr. Van Roekel has signed on to the agenda advanced by Ms. Kopp, and in so doing, has lent her credibility as an advocate of the teaching profession.

I just don’t get it!

More questions about the Kopp/Van Roekel column have been raised as Matt Damon and his mother reject an award from NEA in protest.

What do you think? Is Dennis Van Roekel sending mixed messages about how to strengthen the teaching profession?

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