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Outside editorial: Refocusing the teacher-quality debate

Posted: October 10, 2011 - 11:01pm

The following editorial first appeared in the Seattle Times:

Changes to the nation’s 1,400 teachers’ colleges and university programs proposed by the Obama administration promise to remove burdensome regulations and improve teacher training.

The 440 different measures the schools are required to report on annually ought to be reduced significantly. Fewer reports will not mean less information.

The Department of Education proposes different measures focused on outcomes, including asking schools to report how many graduates of teacher-education programs fill shortage positions, such as teaching math in high-poverty schools; how satisfied school principals are with their preparation and how much the graduates, once in the classroom, improved student learning based on test scores.

This kind of perspective is sorely needed. “Too many future teachers graduate from prep programs unprepared for success in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan correctly notes.

A growing chorus of critics, including prominent education professors, are amplifying concerns about weaknesses in teacher-prep programs.

The director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education was quoted on a New York Times online forum as saying that of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher-training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job.

The rest “could be shut down tomorrow,” said Harvard’s Katherine Merseth.

Before that option is exercised, hope rests on the federal reform plan to reward the best teacher-training programs and beef up the others. The plan has broad support from the National Education Association and Teach for America, a teacher-training corps with its own set of critics, including the teachers unions.

The proposed rules move teacher-quality efforts closer to a training system with clear performance requirements and closely followed outcomes. Future teachers ought to be better trained as well as better supported.

The profession of teaching is improved with fewer regulatory burdens, better support for the top training programs and strict accountability for preparing teachers for real classrooms.

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