Do Colleges Adequately Prepare Prospective Teachers? Should Colleges Be Responsible for Teachers Performance on the Job? Should the Feds Set Standards for Schools of Education? Why Aren’t Teachers Held in Higher Esteem?

The teachers were complaining about too much testing, impossibly complex tests, oppressive supervision, unhappiness that is commonplace, and pointed to Finland.

“Why don’t we adopt the same policies as in Finland, no standardized tests, a national curriculum and wide latitude in teaching?”

I wondered whether the teachers understood that if we adopted the same rules as in Finland few if any of the teachers would have a job. Fewer than 10% of applicants are accepted into Finnish schools of education.
(Read “The Secret to Finland’s Success: Educating Teachers“). Unfortunately the “best and the brightest” tend not to choose teaching as a career choice, in fact teaching attracts mediocre candidates,

… in 2007, among high school seniors who took the SAT and intended to major in education, the average scores were a dismal 480 in Critical Reading, 483 in Mathematics, and 476 in Writing.

In Finland teaching is a highly regarded career, salary is not extraordinary, the nation simply holds the position of teacher in high esteem, not so in the good, old USA.

In most public systems, no matter how well they instruct, no matter how creative or inspiring they are, no matter how much their students are learning, they all get paid a structured and uniform salary. They also have little room to advance their careers unless they become desk rats in the Land of Red Tape and Bureaucracy. What smart, ambitious person wants that?

In spite of the low status, the mediocre salaries, the absence of chances for advancement for the last decade students have flocked to schools of education. At State and City Universities, at $50,000-plus tuition prestigious schools, to private colleges, education colleges are graduating substantial numbers of students, most of whom haven’t found jobs (In NYS only 20% of elementary school certified teachers have found jobs three years after graduation).

The feds have decided to encourage/force states and colleges to up the ante, to set higher standards for prospective teachers and higher certification standards for states.

Education Week reports,

The Obama Administration will release draft accountability rules for the nation’s teacher-preparation programs this summer. Among other things, they would require states to improve their procedures for identifying strong and weak teacher-preparation programs, and would likely bar the worst from offering federal TEACH financial-aid grants.

Duncan did … mention[ed] that factors like teacher-placement rates, retention rates, gauges of alumni satisfaction, and measures of student learning would likely be part of the mix.

“We go into this very humbly and look forward to getting lots of feedback from the public,” Duncan said, but added that he doesn’t have much patience for naysayers. There’s been “such a lack of transparency, so much opaqueness [in teacher prep] I don’t think anyone can or should defend the status quo. Anyone who thinks what we’re doing is good enough, that to me is a real stretch.

New York State, as part of their Race to the Top grant, agreed to upgrade the teacher certification standards in the state. Over the years the State Education Department (SED) has approved scores of college-based teacher education programs around the state – the college “certifies” that the candidate completes the requisite courses and the student completes two exams – about 98% of the applicants pass the exams. Last year the SED moved to a different battery of exams, the edTPA. The Stanford-created exam is a complex combination of a video and two written exams within a tightly controlled environment (see description here).

The edTPA process has been sharply criticized by college faculties,

… the Vice President for Academics at UUP … notes “The edTPA is certainly separate from Common Core in many ways but I think the connection is that we see the same inappropriate rollout with the edTPA as we saw with the Common Core. So just as the Common Core was rushed in without adequate input from teachers in the k through 12 world, the same thing has happened with the edTPA. It was rushed in. Input from our educators at our colleges and universities was not taken seriously at State Ed, and so we have another debacle here.”

… UUP supports positive change and improving standards but teacher-educators and teachers need to be involved in decision-making in a more substantive way than the education department has drawn on them to date.

Bills have been introduced in the NYS Assembly to delay the implementation of the changes for one year, and, the Board of Regents will be considering a delay in implementation at the April 28th meeting.

Current federal regulations require states to identify the lowest achieving schools in the state and take corrective action, ranging from designing a corrective action plan, removing the principal, changing half the faculty to closing or converting the school to charter. These “persistently lowest achieving” (PLA) schools are almost always in the poorest zip codes. Will colleges who prepare students to teach in schools with populations of poor students be at-risk?

The feds intend to impose the same sanctions on schools of education. SED is currently “tracking” graduates into schools by the teacher scores on the APPR (teacher evaluation) scores. Every teacher in NYS receives a numerical grade (60% supervisory assessment, 20% student test scores, 20% “locally negotiated” metric) which converts to categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. Last year 1% of teacher were rated “ineffective” and 6% “developing.” College with higher percentages of “ineffective” and/or “developing” teachers will be subject to sanctions.

The unanswered questions are daunting:

* should colleges be held responsible once teachers are hired and are teaching in a school district when the college plays no role in site-based teacher support?

* is there any evidence that scores on the edTPA correlate with teacher performance?

* Is there any data which disaggregates edTPA scores by gender, race and ethnicity?

Currently only two states, New York State and the state of Washington have implemented the edTPA exams: is NYS rushing into a sea change too quickly?

There are larger questions: should teacher preparation programs be the responsibility of the school district rather than the university?

If you ask new teachers whether their college preparation program prepared them adequately for the classroom most (with a few exceptions), say “no.” Under the prior administration the NYC Department of Education mused about whether they would do a better job of preparing prospective teachers – the only non-college organization which has the ability to certify teachers is the Museum of Natural History (Earth Science) and the program is quite small and supported with federal grant dollars.

How important is the traditional college coursework? Should teacher preparation be treated as a vocation with the emphasis on actual in the classroom work under the guidance of a skilled teacher – a return to an apprentice system?

A baseline question: should teacher preparation programs be established in Washington DC or at the state or school district level? And, of course, will any of the changes matter if teachers continue to be held in low esteem?


5 responses to “Do Colleges Adequately Prepare Prospective Teachers? Should Colleges Be Responsible for Teachers Performance on the Job? Should the Feds Set Standards for Schools of Education? Why Aren’t Teachers Held in Higher Esteem?

  1. Serious issues are raised with the 3 questions posed. The short answer to the question as to whether colleges do a good job in preparing teachers for the work place, is no. How could they, when you consider the multitude of variables that our teachers face for the first time, variables that no college course could prepare them for. Is there a difference between preparing teachers for urban vs rural education. I think so. Should Government set standards for education. I dont think so. That would be one more step closer to socialized instruction, or tracking, or denying choice. Depending on what sector of society you talk to, you will find that in most cases,teachers are held in high esteem. It is only when some are found to be felons, or unscrupulous, or in some other way degenerate, then the whole profession gets blasted by the media. Teaching is and has always been the noblest of professions. With regard to what I think colleges should do to catch up, if you will ,are the following: There should be two teacher’s ed programs offered.One that focuses on Urban Edducation and the other that focuses on Rural Education. Within those two frameworks, there should be courses that emphasize Regional focuses. Colleges should most certainly not be held reaponsible for Teacher’s performances in a school. My assertion here is a qualified one, to wit:Those teachers who are 1st year Teaching Fellows or TFA candates have become shining stars here in NYC and nationally (TFA). This is a credit to their pre-service and on the job experiences, in cooperation with in school supervision. Supervision that doesnt necessarily stress wrong doing, but rather designs efforts for correctiuve action. No college can dictate those terms to a school supervisor. The “rub” occurs when we find ( as we do today) that too many of our school leaders are absolutely clueless when it comes to undersatanding their prime directive. Raising instruction, which may include strong PD programs and hands on observation and post observation procedures among other “helping” activities.


  2. Ask Eva Moskowitz. I hear she hires no one with Ed credit, doesn’t believe in it.


  3. Colleges and universities cannot be adequately assessed on their teacher preparation so long as the sites to which new teachers are assigned differ so much. The author neglects to mention that, at least in New York State, and certainly in many others, a practicum in which prespective teachers work with a seasoned veteran before being certified is the norm. Many cities have a mentoring program in place for first year teachers. These supports make a huge difference in how well a new teacher succeeds. There is a steep learning curve in a teacher’s first five years. Unfortunately, nationwide about half of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, not because of relatively low pay – they knew this going in – but because of the lack of respect they must endure daily inside and outside the school, and sometimes because of unsafe working conditions.


  4. Finland was doing very poorly 45 years ago. As soon as they started generating excellent results in an international environment, the teachers’ reputation started rising. So teacher reputation depends on the results they have been delivering historically. The reputation attracts the best students who graduate from Masters classes so much that salary being high becomes unimportant, and working conditions, independence to do your best, becomes a big motivator. Finnish teachers come from the the top 10% of their Masters programs at the universities in the subject that they will teach. US teachers come from the bottom third of US teaching programs and they are switched from one subject class to another. There are many other differences that are significant, e.g., testing for suitability for teaching before hiring, and sending newly hired teachers back to grad school to learn about the latest, best teaching methodologies before they enter a classroom. They will be supervised by a senior teacher who has at least 15 years of experience. The teaching methodology is such that they produce very close and high results across minority boundaries, student to student and school to school. We could learn a lot from these people and they are willing to help.


  5. Comparing Finland to the US is unfair to Finland and the US – New York City has twice as many people as Finland. Finland is the most homogeneous country in Europe, the largest minority group are Russians.

    If we compare “apples to apples,” disadvantaged students to disadvantaged students the US is better than most post-industrial nations

    “Disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform better (and in most cases, substantially better) than comparable students in similar post-industrial countries in reading. In math, disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform about the same as comparable students in similar post-industrial countries.”

    The US economy is among the most unequal in the developed world, and our childhood poverty rate is among the lowest among the OECD nations.

    “According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world. This would explain why the United States, on child poverty, is ranked between Bulgaria and Romania, though Americans are on average six times richer than Bulgarians and Romanians.”

    It’s only been the last decade that we have had a surplus of recent teacher education candidates, and in the last two years the number of students in teacher education programs is decreasing. While CAEP, the national teacher certification body is recommending sharply increasing the entry and exit criteria for prospective teachers; that assumes there are sufficient candidates. The sharp criticisms of teachers, in my view, is decreasing program applicants.

    I’m happy that Finland has such a highly effective teaching force, I’m not sure the lessons are relevant to the US.


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