Despite growing evidence of the importance of high-quality teaching, the vast majority of the nation’s teachers are being prepared in programs that have low admission and graduation standards and cling to an outdated vision of teacher education, according to “Educating School Teachers,” a report released Sept. 18.

The report, issued by the Education Schools Project, identifies several model programs but finds that most education schools are engaged in a “pursuit of irrelevance,” with curricula in disarray and faculty disconnected from classrooms and colleagues. These schools have “not kept pace with changing demographics, technology, global competition, and pressures to raise student achievement,” the study says.

Three out of five education school alumni (61 percent) say their teacher-education training did not prepare them well to cope with the realities of today’s classrooms, according to a national survey conducted for the study. School principals also gave teacher-education programs low grades, with fewer than one-third of those surveyed reporting that schools of education prepare teachers at least “moderately well” to address the needs of students with disabilities (30 percent), a diverse cultural background (28 percent), or limited English proficiency (16 percent).

Fewer than half of principals surveyed reported that education school alumni are very well or moderately well prepared to use technology in instruction (46 percent), use student performance assessment techniques (42 percent), or implement curriculum and performance standards (41 percent).

“Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world,” said Arthur Levine, the author of the report, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and former president of Columbia University Teachers College. “Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic. There is no standard approach to where and how teachers should be prepared, and the ongoing debate over whether teaching is a profession or a craft has too often blurred the mission of education schools that are uncertain whether to become professional schools or continue to be grounded in the more academic world of arts and sciences.”

Because universities tend to rely on schools of education as “cash cows,” the report said, the quality of teacher education is compromised by setting low admissions standards to help boost enrollments and revenues. Although the SAT and GRE scores of aspiring secondary-school teachers compare with the national average, the scores of future elementary-school teachers fall near the bottom of all test takers, with GRE scores reportedly 100 points below the national average.

State quality-control mechanisms focus too much on process, not substance, and vary dramatically, the report claims. For example, the amount of field work required ranges from 30 hours in one state to 300 hours in another, and the number of required reading credits ranges from two to 12, it says.

Accreditation does not assure program quality, either, according to the report. Of the 100 graduate schools of education ranked by U.S. News and World Report in 2005, three of the top 10 schools were accredited, compared with eight in the bottom 10. In addition, Levine’s report found no significant difference in students’ math or reading achievement, regardless of whether their teachers were prepared at nationally accredited institutions. The study was prepared by the Northwest Evaluation Association, which controlled for teacher longevity.

The report includes an action plan to improve U.S. teacher education. Its recommendations include:

•Transforming education schools into professional schools focused on classroom practice;

•Closing failing programs, expanding high-quality programs, and creating the equivalent of a Rhodes Scholarship to attract the best and brightest students to teaching;

•Making student achievement the primary measure of the success of teacher-education programs;

•Making five-year teacher-education programs the norm; and

•Strengthening quality control by redesigning accreditation and by encouraging states to establish common, outcomes-based requirements for teacher certification and licensure.

Sharon Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), commended Levine for the study. She called the findings “sobering” and added, “We take them seriously … there is no one from whom we would rather receive this study’s ‘tough-love’ findings. We agree with some, but not all, of his recommendations.”

Robinson said teacher education already is undergoing a dynamic transformation. She referred to an AACTE publication, “Teacher Education Reform: The Impact of Federal Investments,” which documents some of those changes.

Levine’s report calls for new accreditation standards, but the AACTE “would not support wiping out 50 years of forward progress in improving the quality of [teacher] preparation programs,” Robinson said. “The history of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education shows a pattern of continuous improvement and increasing rigor in the standards and requirements of its accreditation process. We need to build upon that solid base, not tear it down.”

She added: “We are perplexed at the report’s recommendations for financial incentives to disproportionately expand the high-cost, highly selective, elite institutions that attract fewer teacher candidates. We need to be more inclusive than that.”

AACTE also recognizes the importance of integrating digital technologies into teacher-education programs and ensuring that program graduates are skilled at using technology to enhance their instruction, Robinson said. The group holds an annual conference called the National Technology Leadership Summit, which takes place later this week at AACTE headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Education School Project is a non-partisan organization that promotes balanced debate on how best to prepare the teachers, administrators, and researchers who serve the nation’s schoolchildren, according to the group’s web site.

The study of university-based teacher-education programs is the second in a four-part series by the group. The first part, “Educating School Leaders,” focused on the education of school administrators. The third part will examine the quality of education research and the preparation of the scholars and researchers who conduct it. The final report will be an overview of U.S. schools of education, where the overwhelming majority of school leaders, teachers, and scholars are educated. No date has been set for the release of these final two reports.

Links:

Education School Project
http://edschools.org

“Educating School Leaders”
http://edschools.org/reports_leaders.htm “Educating School Teachers”
http://edschools.org/teacher_report.htm

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
http://www.aacte.org

National Technology Leadership Summit
http://www.ntls.info/index.htm