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Duncan Urges Overhaul of 'Mediocre' Teacher Colleges

U.S. colleges aren’t adequately preparing teachers for jobs in the nation’s elementary and secondary classrooms, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

“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,” Duncan said today in a speech at Columbia University in New York.

Duncan said hundreds of teachers have told him their colleges didn’t provide enough hands-on classroom training or instruct them in the use of data to improve student learning. He also cited a 2006 report by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia’s Teachers College, in which 61 percent of educators surveyed said their colleges didn’t offer enough instruction to prepare them for the classroom.

The nation’s 95,000 public schools will have to hire as many as 1 million educators in the next five years as teachers and principals from the so-called baby-boom generation retire, according to Education Department projections. More than half of the new teachers will have been trained at education colleges, Duncan said.

Teachers colleges are often treated as the “Rodney Dangerfield of higher education,” he said. “Historically, education schools were the institution that got no respect, from the Oval Office to the provost’s office.”

‘Cash Cows’

While many teacher-preparation programs are “cash cows” for universities, the schools often divert those profits to other departments instead of investing them in education programs, he said.

“States, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs,” he said. “Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests, without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness.”

Duncan, the former head of Chicago’s public schools, is using $100 billion in stimulus funds to try to reshape U.S. education. Almost $70 billion is going to public education in kindergarten through high school. Most of the education money will go to states under a noncompetitive formula set in the stimulus legislation.

Linking Data

The stimulus program also includes $4.35 billion in competitive grants for states that make the most progress in raising academic standards, tracking student gains, boosting teacher quality and improving failing schools. Proposed guidelines for those grants would reward states that publicly link student achievement data to the colleges that issued credentials to their teachers and principals, Duncan said.

“Right now, Louisiana is the only state in the nation that tracks the effectiveness of its teacher preparation programs,” he said. “Every state in the nation ought to be able to do the same.”

Some colleges, including Columbia, Stanford University and the University of Washington have “first rate” teacher training programs, Duncan said. Columbia trains student teachers to use data to continuously improve their instructional methods, and requires at least two semesters of hands-on classroom work.

Duncan, who has visited more than 30 states to field suggestions for improving public education, said other colleges are taking steps to improve their teacher education programs.

“Everywhere I go, I see universities partnering with school districts, opening up lab schools, magnet schools, and charter schools, and creating professional development schools for ed school students to gain clinical experience,” Duncan said.

The Obama administration will push for more federal funding for those types of programs as it works to overhaul the seven- year-old No Child Left Behind law in the coming months, he said.

“We will encourage partnerships with states and districts that address teacher shortages in high-needs areas, and we will encourage programs committed to results,” he said.


To contact the reporters on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington at;

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Posted in: News on October 24, 2009 @ 7:26 PM

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