Teacher Preparation

Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push

By Ann Bradley — September 18, 1996 5 min read
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The single most important strategy for achieving America’s education goals is to recruit, prepare, and support excellent teachers for every school, concludes a report released here last week by a private commission.

Policymakers must embrace what parents have always known, the report says: Good teachers are the most important element of successful learning. But, the authors write, instead of being recognized as the linchpin of reform efforts, teaching often has been ignored.

The 151-page report, from the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, offers a scathing indictment of current practices, including inadequate teacher education, bureaucratic hiring procedures, and the placement of unqualified teachers in classrooms.

“What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future” is the result of two years of study by the 26-member panel chaired by Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“This is not an insiders’ report,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, the commission’s executive director and an authority on the teaching profession at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It doesn’t pat everyone on the back and say, ‘We’re all doing fine and what we need is more money and respect.’ It says we have to get serious about the tough stuff.”

President Clinton, campaigning in California last week, pledged his support for the report’s recommendations. (“In Defending Teachers, Clinton Calls for Help in Improving Quality,” in This Week’s News.)

‘National Crusade’

Seven states have signed on as partners with the commission to put its recommendations in place: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Each will receive $25,000 to bring together the people whose involvement is considered vital to an overhaul of teaching.

The commission proposes that by 2006 every student in America be provided with what it calls a new birthright--a competent, caring, and qualified teacher.

It sets the price tag for reaching this goal at nearly $5 billion a year in new federal, state, and local money. This money, the report says, should be spent on upgrading teacher education, subsidizing people to teach in high-need fields and locations, reforming the licensing and induction process, and better professional development.

In addition, half of the $80 billion now spent annually on nonteaching costs in public schools should be redirected to classroom teaching, it says. The United States should aim to have classroom teachers make up 60 percent of the education workforce, it recommends, rather than the current 43 percent.

“Our society can no longer accept the hit-or-miss hiring, sink-or-swim induction, trial-and-error teaching, and take-it-or-leave-it professional development it has tolerated in the past,” the report says. “What is required is a great national crusade united behind the proposition that competent teaching is a new student right.”

2 Million Teachers

This daunting challenge comes at a time of opportunity, the report points out. Because of enrollment growth and retirement, the nation’s schools will need more than 2 million new teachers in the next 10 years. If policymakers seize the moment, it says, this new generation of teachers can be armed with the knowledge and skills that will help students reach ambitious academic goals.

Terry Peterson, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, hailed the report for “pulling together a lot of pieces.”

“This is not something that has a political solution or merits a quick fix,” he said. “We have to stick with this for five to 10 years.”

The commission urges action in five areas: setting high standards for teaching; reinventing preparation programs and professional development; overhauling recruitment; crafting policies to reward teachers’ knowledge and skills; and creating schools that are structured so that students and teachers can succeed.

Substantial work has begun to address the problems in teaching brought to the public’s attention by three influential reports issued in 1986, the report says.

It cites “A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century,” by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy; “Tomorrow’s Teachers,” by the Holmes Group; and “Time for Results: Task Force on Teaching,” by the National Governors’ Association.

The reports helped spur teacher education reform, the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the development of new standards for teacher licensing.

Important policy steps now should be undertaken to move from “a panoply of individual, disconnected efforts to a coherent system of supports for high-quality teaching,” the new report says.

But to do so, the nation must confront what the commission calls “fatal distractions"--myths that hamper thoughtful, coherent, and long-range solutions to teacher improvement.

These myths, it says, are the assertions that anyone can teach, that teacher preparation is not much use, that teachers don’t work hard enough, that tenure is the problem, and that unions prevent reform. This persistent set of beliefs substitutes “bromides and platitudes for the hard work required to improve teaching.”

‘Three-Legged Stool’

Standards for students and for teachers should undergird efforts to improve teaching, the commission recommends.

It calls for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to certify 105,000 teachers this decade, enough to put a board-certified teacher in every school.

Accreditation, licensure, and advanced professional certification--as in other professions--should make up a “three-legged stool” of teacher quality, the report says.

States should create professional-standards boards to set rigorous requirements for teaching; close inadequate education schools and insist that all others become nationally accredited; and license teachers based on their demonstrated knowledge and skills, rather than accumulated coursework.

The commission endorsed the idea of moving teacher education to the graduate level, noting that programs that extend beyond the undergraduate years produce teachers who remain in the classroom longer than four-year graduates.

It also calls for greater use of professional-development schools for training new recruits.

Teachers’ pay should be revamped, the report says, to include salary incentives for demonstrated knowledge and skills and rewards for continuing to teach.

State Report Card

Across the country, the ratio of school staff members to enrolled students is 1-to-9, the report says. But class sizes average 24, and can reach 35 in cities, where often more than half of a district’s staff members are not classroom teachers.

Like other industrialized nations, the report says, the United States should invest far more in teachers and far less in people to inspect them and remediate the students they fail to reach.

The report includes a state-by-state report card of “indicators of attention to teaching quality.” Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only Hawaii, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have educational staffs made up of at least 60 percent teachers.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 1996 edition of Education Week as Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push

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