College presidents must take the lead in upgrading teacher-preparation programs now or risk seeing the growing demand for teachers stymie efforts to improve K-12 schools, the nation’s largest association of colleges and universities argues in a new report.
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The report from the American Council on Education projects that, over the next decade, 2.5 million teachers will be needed to replace retiring educators, lower class sizes, and meet enrollment growth.
The temptation, even in the face of growing public demand for students with better skills, is to fill those spots with unqualified teachers, the ace warns. And yet, no other factor is as important to improving student achievement as a good teacher, the report says.
To turn the possibility of a crisis into an opportunity, the report urges college presidents to put teacher-preparation programs high on the agendas of their institutions.
The leaders should insist, for instance, that the whole of the university, and especially the arts and sciences faculty, take responsibility for preparing teachers.
“We felt that by having a task force of college and university presidents speaking to other presidents, we could emphasize to the right people the concerns that the American people hold,’' said Michael A. Baer, the chief of programs and analysis for the Washington-based ace.
The report, “To Touch the Future: Transforming the Way Teachers Are Taught,” was the work of a 36-member committee, most of whom are college and university leaders. It was sent last week to the heads of American institutions of higher learning.
Improve or Die
The strongly worded report also calls on teacher-preparation programs to provide the support and mentoring their graduates need if they are going to stay in education, especially when they teach in high-poverty schools and special-needs programs, where burnout is high. Preparation should include a good grounding in subject matter as well as teaching methods, the ace says, and a solid introduction to classroom technology.
The report presses presidents and other higher education leaders to speak out on public issues linked to teacher quality. Those range from teacher pay to federal funding for education research.
The report estimates that the federal government, the main source of funding for education research, spends less than 1 percent of its research money on teaching and support for graduate study in teaching, a figure the authors call “shocking.”
Some of the severest criticism is aimed directly at teacher-preparation programs. Many programs suffer from lack of regular evaluation, from a flabby curriculum, and from low entrance and exit requirements, according to the report. It recommends that the programs be brought up to snuffor dropped.
“Every one of the recommendations is being done someplace,” Mr. Baer said, but they are not widespread.
Advocates of improved teacher-training programs applauded the report.
Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, based in Washington, said that the recommendations were in line with what his group requires to accredit a program. But just 500 of the 1,300 teacher education programs in the country are NCATE-accredited.
“Clearly, what is new, and what is to be welcomed,” Mr. Wise said, “is the statement that college and university presidents are interested in this topic.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 1999 edition of Education Week as Presidents Point to Selves To Fix Teacher Ed.