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While many influences contribute to a student’s academic achievement— drive, family background—research suggests that the single most important factor inside the school itself for K-12 students is the quality of the teacher.
When the global teacher training and credential program TEACH-NOW launched four years ago, Emily Feistritzer wanted to prepare teachers who would be comfortable using technology in classrooms. Nearly 700 graduates later, the feedback from those who finished the nine-month program is so positive, TEACH-NOW’s leaders say, that they are planning a quick expansion.
Daniel T. Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, writes: Most Americans think that teaching is a natural talent, not the product of training, and that smart people are the ones with the talent. So some policy makers have concluded that the way to improve schooling is to lure top-scoring graduates into teaching (as Japan does) instead of scraping the bottom of the academic barrel (as America supposedly does). Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, invoked this idea in a speech last year. But the problem in American education is not dumb teachers. The problem is dumb teacher training.
Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle, and professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Hilary G. Conklin, a program leader and associate professor of secondary social studies at DePaul University write: The selective and biased use of findings from studies, the consultation of limited and select research, and the repeated assertion that new, entrepreneurial programs are superior and that university teacher education is broken —assertions spread by mostly uncritical media coverage—have set us on a course to destroy the university-based teacher education system that has dominated the preparation of teachers in the United States since the 1960s.
Washington Post Columnist Valerie Strauss writes: If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist.
Columnist Frank Bruni writes: We’ve failed to make teaching the draw that it should be, the honor that it must be. Nationally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs dropped by 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, as Rich reported. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of the people who do go into teaching exit the profession within five years.
In a stark about-face from just a few years ago, school districts have gone from handing out pink slips to scrambling to hire teachers. Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.
Cory Koedel & Matthew Di Carlo write: In the long term, we are very receptive to, and indeed optimistic about, the idea of outcomes-based accountability for teacher preparation programs (TPPs). In the short to medium term, however, we contend that the evidence base underlying the Education Department’s regulations is nowhere near sufficient to guide a national effort toward high-stakes TPP accountability.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, headed by one of the most visible critics of teacher-education programs, is creating its own graduate school and research center in the field in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Pasi Sahlberg writes: When the going gets tough in our wealthy societies, the powers-that-be often choose quick fixes. In search of a silver bullet instead of sustained systemic improvement, politicians turn their eyes on teachers, believing that asking them to do more with less can compensate for inconvenient reductions in school resources. With super teachers, some of them say, the quality of education will improve even with lesser budgets.