Duncan: “Mediocre” Education Schools Must Change

Oct 22, 2009 12:04pm

ABC News’ Mary Bruce Reports: Education Secretary Arne Duncan told U.S. colleges and universities today that they are doing a “mediocre” job of preparing the nation’s teachers for the future and that they must make major changes to their programs.

"[B]y 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 in a speech today at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change–not evolutionary tinkering.”

Duncan went on to scold “cash cow” education schools for misdirecting their profits. “For decades, schools of education have been renowned for being cash cows for universities. The large enrollment in education schools and their relatively low overhead have made them profit-centers. But many universities have diverted those profits to more prestigious but under-enrolled graduate departments like physics–while doing little to invest in rigorous educational research and well-run clinical training.”

A 2006 report by former Teachers College president Arthur Levine found that three of five education school alumni said that their training failed to adequately prepare them for the classroom.

While serving as the head of Chicago’s public schools, Duncan said he spoke with hundreds of teachers and found they had two chief complaints about education schools. “First, most of them say they did not get the hands-on practical teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students. And second, they say there were not taught how to use data to differentiate and improve instruction and boost student learning.” 

However, the Secretary said that there is plenty of blame to go around. “The fact is that states, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. 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. Local mentoring programs for new teachers are poorly funded and often poorly organized at the district level.”

The administration’s call for improvement comes as the education system prepares to lose an estimated one million teachers over the next decade as Baby Boomers retire from the teaching force.

“By 2014, just five short years from now, the U.S. Department of Education projects that up to one million new teaching positions will be filled by new teachers,” Duncan said. “These major demographic shifts mean that teaching is going to be a booming profession in the years ahead—with school districts nationwide making up to 200,000 new, first-time hires annually. Our ability to attract, and more importantly retain, great talent over the next five years will shape public education for the next 30 years – it is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

The Obama administration is using stimulus dollars to reward states that link student achievement data to the education programs where teachers were trained and credentialed.  In addition, the Education Department is funding an expansion of teacher residency programs in high-need schools across the country.

-Mary Bruce

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