Education chief: Overhaul teacher training

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Obama administration is calling for an overhaul of college programs that prepare teachers, saying they are cash cows that do a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the classroom.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for "revolutionary change" in these programs, which prepare at least 80 percent of the nation's teachers.

In a speech prepared for delivery Thursday, Duncan said he has talked to hundreds of great young teachers while serving as Chicago schools chief and later as President Barack Obama's schools chief. The teachers have two complaints about education schools, he said.

"First, most of them say they did not get the hands-on teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students," he said in the speech to Columbia University's Teachers College.

"And second, they say there were not taught how to use data to improve instruction and boost student learning," Duncan said.

A 2006 report found that three of five education school alumni said their training failed to prepare them to teach, he noted. The report was by Arthur Levine, a former Teachers College president.

Prestigious programs get money
Their large enrollment and low overhead makes education schools cash cows for their universities, Duncan said. But their profits have been diverted to smaller, more prestigious graduate departments such as physics and have not been spent on research and training for would-be teachers, he said.

The government is also to blame, he said. Most states have paper-and-pencil licensing exams that measure basic skills and knowledge but not readiness for the classroom, he said, and local mentoring programs are lacking.

And most states and school districts don't link the performance of teachers to their education schools to identify which programs prepare their teachers and which don't, he said.

"We should be studying and copying the practices of effective teacher preparation programs, and encouraging the lowest-performers to shape up or shut down," he said.

Stimulus tied to achievement
Duncan noted the administration is using stimulus dollars to reward states that tie student achievement data to the education schools where their teachers had credentials. His department also is helping to pay for an expansion of teacher residency programs in high-needs schools.

Timing is crucial, Duncan said. A third of veteran teachers and principals are Baby Boomers who are poised to retire, which could create a million new teaching positions in the next four years, according to the Department of Education.

He noted Obama's goal for America to have more college graduates than any other country by 2020. It's a tall order — only three-quarters of kids graduate from high school, and of those who do, about half go to college.

"But to reach that goal, both our K-12 system and our teacher preparation programs have to get dramatically better," Duncan said.