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Like any good teacher, I try to spend the waning days of summer sorting through my desk, taking inventory of the past year and preparing for the next.

A few weeks ago, I was sifting through the mountain of papers, studies and newspaper clippings that had accumulated there, when I came across a booklet titled “Building a Profession: Strengthening Teacher Preparation and Induction.”

The booklet, published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) more than a decade ago, summarizes a report from an AFT task force appointed to look at teacher preparation and how to improve it. Thumbing through it now, I was struck by how timely our task force’s observations and recommendations still are.

This is both good and bad. It’s good that many of the suggestions of our task force, which included AFT leaders from both higher education and K-12 education, were excellent and ahead of their time. In fact, most of the ideas put forward in the report have become conventional wisdom among school reformers.

The task force talked about the need to raise entrance standards for teacher preparation programs, and to require core liberal arts and sciences courses for teaching candidates in their freshmen and sophomore years. It talked about the need for a rigorous core curriculum in pedagogy based on the best research into how students learn. And it talked about the need to strengthen the clinical experience for prospective teachers, making sure our future educators are exposed to the best classroom models and the most skillful practitioners.

But it’s very disappointing that there hasn’t been the kind of progress we had hoped for in turning these ideas into action. More than a decade after our report, the nation still struggles to ensure our schools of education adequately train and prepare teachers, especially the new generation of highly qualified math and science instructors we need to be competitive and productive in the global economy of the 21st century.

Just as troubling, new teachers still don’t get the kind of mentoring and other support they need and deserve from high-quality induction programs. The problem manifests itself in economic as well as academic terms: Teacher turnover costs our nation $7.34 billion each year, a price tag that is both unsustainable and unacceptable. The response by many states is to lower the standards it takes to become a teacher and to drop novice instructors with little training into our most challenging classrooms with little support.

We know the world’s top-performing school systems don’t operate that way. Countries like Finland and Singapore make sure all their teachers enter high-quality preparation programs, usually at a master’s degree level. The training is free, and they receive a stipend or salary while they are studying. They are exposed to research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools often attached to their universities.

And when they enter the field, their work is valued. In Singapore, beginning teachers earn as much or more than beginning doctors. Contrast that with the United States, where young people preparing for a teaching career go deeply into debt to enter a profession where they will earn, by some estimates, 60 percent of the salaries earned by other college graduates.

In Ontario, Canada, teacher preparation is designed and closely monitored by the Ontario College of Teachers. Its high standards ensure that every graduate has the instructional skill to address the needs of a diverse classroom of students. This is why Ontario has one of the lowest achievement gaps among immigrant and native students, making it one of the best school systems in the world.

Don’t get me wrong: For decades, education colleges across the United States have produced many excellent teachers who have made significant differences in the lives of the children they have taught. But the challenges we face today require a new approach. We can and should do better.

Last year, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued a report that echoed many of the concerns we raised a decade ago. A panel of experts that NCATE convened concluded we need to provide clinical experience for teacher candidates, forge stronger partnerships with school districts, focus on both content knowledge and pedagogy, and improve selection and placement of teacher candidates. I said at the time that NCATE used research, common sense and the experience of everyday educators to create a blueprint for thoughtful and dramatic improvements in the way America’s teachers are prepared for their careers.

While some may use accountability to prod others to act, the AFT itself is committed to taking action. In the coming months we will be bringing together a new generation of AFT leaders from K-12 and higher education, as well as outside experts on teacher preparation, to examine what pre-service programs in the 21st century should look like, how those programs should be evaluated, and what resources those programs need to ensure every child has a great teacher. Just as the AFT has stressed in our work on teacher development and evaluation in K-12, we will also ask everyone to share the collective responsibility for the success of our students. Our higher education partners are a key to that success.

The AFT will do this within the framework we have established to create a quality education agenda based on evidence, equity, scalability and sustainability. Already, the AFT has done far-reaching work on developing a core curriculum and evaluating teacher quality, and our ideas about teacher development and evaluation are being used by more than 100 school districts around the country to support the work of frontline teachers and staff.

For the AFT, looking at the needs of our teacher preparation programs is the logical next step. We have said that the development and evaluation of teachers already on the job should always foster continuous improvement. That philosophy should extend to pre-service teaching programs as well.

The ideas contained in that decade-old report made a lot of sense in 2000. They make even more sense now.

Randi Weingarten is the president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, committed to improving schools, hospitals and public institutions for children, families and communities.

Originally posted to Randi Weingarten on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 03:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and A Fighting Chance.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My daughter is in college (6+ / 0-)

    ... to be a teacher. I'll be sending her the link to this.

  •  I am totally stealing some of your links; (7+ / 0-)

    one of the things that is so frustrating about today's debate on education is that so much of what we know about what works is ignored while untested proposals are pushed hard by those in power, apparently with no interest in testing them. This diary, and those links I'll be stealing, make the point of how much we do know that would work, if we'd only make the necessary investments.

  •  If people listened to teachers.. (6+ / 0-)

    a decade ago.. education would be in a stronger place in the US today.

  •  Thank you for leading us. I am a new member of (5+ / 0-)

    the ISTA--the Indiana teacher union.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 03:34:53 PM PDT

    •  Ditto here, thanks Randi. My wife and (0+ / 0-)

      I are retired members of Texas AFT.

    •  Don’t listen to Randi (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oxfdblue

      As a UFT member I had the lack of pleasure dealing with her in NYC.  She lies, she is a sellout and she is not a friend of teachers.  Most teachers in NYC do not like her and she is bad for public school teachers.

      The teachers’ union is important.  She isn’t.

      •  Have to agree (0+ / 0-)

        I'm also a NYC teacher and my school had a horrible experience that she helped to support.

        I was introduced to her once and all she could ask me was basically what was wrong with my school.  She looked almost upset when I told her that we have an incredibly supportive administration, that our principal is very accessible, and that he asks teachers' opinions about almost everything- usually in very informal circumstances.

        I never liked the "I'm a teacher, you're an administrator, therefore I must hate you" attitude I have seen among certainly older UFT people.   Happily, I see less and less of it as time passes.

  •  Nah. It begins with actually knowing something. (0+ / 0-)

    Which is typically precluded by majoring in education.


    Kevin dropped his ice cream and blames Obama? He's gone hamsher!

    by punditician on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 03:40:53 PM PDT

    •  At my college, education is ALWAYS a double major (8+ / 0-)

      for middle school and high school teaching licence candidates.  (Not sure on the terminology for that, lol, I'm a bio major)  They have to complete a full major in whatever subject, and then a full education major.   The only students who can single-major in Education are the ones who will be testing for Early Childhood Education (elementary).  

      I think this is state mandated (Massachusetts).

      We also don't have BA degrees for the sciences--so a high school bio, chem, physics teacher would be a BSc (more credits & more lab work) as well as Education major.

      Your comment was rude, by the way.

      •  I wouldn't bother with the rude part (3+ / 0-)

        He doesn't care.

        The part he is wrong about  is the entire thing  

        "Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent."

        by otto on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 05:14:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  To the extent that that is the case... (0+ / 0-)

        as opposed to, for example "math education" being the "other" major, that's not completely unreasonable.

        It nevertheless remains the case that the situation you describe is so far outside the norm as to be be laughable.


        Kevin dropped his ice cream and blames Obama? He's gone hamsher!

        by punditician on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 07:23:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Link? Evidence? Proof? Something? (0+ / 0-)

          Checked nearby elite liberal arts college (MA)--requires full major.

          Checked nearby state university (CT)--requires full major.

          Checked nearby private liberal arts college (VT)--requires full major.

          Checked University of Alabama for some non-regional input--"Secondary education majors will complete a dual major in a content area and secondary education."

          My school is a public liberal arts college.

          That's a pretty full range of types of schools and they all require a full major in addition to the Education major.  The CT and VT schools actually only have 5 year Bachelor's/Master's programs.

          I don't have time to check every school in the country, or go through every state's Department of Education, but I'm interested in the source of your information that proves "the situation I describe is so far outside the norm as to be be [sic] laughable."

          If you're simply operating off the prejudice that teachers are unintelligent, under-educated, or both, then please get your head out of your ass.

    •  For just about everything below high school (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling

      (and for some high school courses), knowing the subject matter content is by FAR the easiest part of being a good teacher.

      "These are not candidates. These are the empty stand-ins for lobbyists' policies to be legislated later." - Chimpy, 9/24/10

      by NWTerriD on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 09:59:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In the State of CT, for example (0+ / 0-)

        Let's say you want to be a teacher of language arts/reading.

        Besides student teaching, before you get a preliminary certificate, you need to take two tests, Praxis I and Praxis II.

        I rarely find a new teacher who passes these tests on the first try. The questions are brutal.

        Those who pass only get preliminary certification. Tenure only comes after 4 years of teaching.

        Want to get rid of bad teachers? Make sure administrators have the guts to evaluate and politely push those who should not be in a room with kids.

        Teachers who take on a student teacher, also must grade his/her teaching honestly.

        I failed one of my student teachers. It was not pretty, but I held my ground along with the support of the administration. I was threatened with law suits and more.

        The union helped me stand my ground, and I am happy to say this person's university also supported me.

        Ask prospective teachers if they want a job or a career. If they treat teaching as a job- put in the hours and go home, then get out of the profession.

        Good teachers know that teaching is a life-long career, in which you seek growth, no matter how long you have been teaching.

        School starts on Tuesday for me. My 43 year. And if I didn't have to deal with data teams and articulation meetings with little articulation, and other nonsense, I might teach until I drop. The problem is now that teachers need time to actually teach- and not to the useless standard state tests.

  •  Actually education majors really know how (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NWTerriD, Amber6541

    to present material and get kids involved in interactive ways. If your point is that they also need to know content you are correct. We should reward teachers who have more education and preparation. I have a BA in Ed. and a Masters in my subject area. ABD actually... wow.

  •  Singapore doctors and teachers (0+ / 0-)
    In Singapore, beginning teachers earn as much or more than beginning doctors.

    I wanted to clarify the above sentence, to give some context as to why Singaporean teachers make the money they do.

    Part of the problem is that when most Americans hear that so-and-so is a medical doctor, they automatically assume that that person has an M.D. degree.  That, of course, is how the system works in the U.S.  However, in Singapore, medical doctors don't need such high qualifications in order to practice.  Of course, specialists working at the various hospitals will have their M.D.s, but large numbers of doctors in Singapore only have a Master's Degree as their highest qualification.  These doctors work primarily in neighborhood clinics, which are often their own businesses.  These clinics are fairly commonplace, and provide decent health-care at a very affordable price. However, they do not rake in the salaries that the M.D.s, both American and Singaporean, do.  (Likewise, they don't have such tremendous school debts to pay off, either.)

    On the other hand, Singaporean teachers do make decent money.  The vast majority of the schools here are run by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which is the primary employer of teachers.  The MOE, of course, does require various levels of standards (to get a job, to maintain one's job, and so forth) and, in general, most teachers do decently financially.  No one's getting rich, but I don't know of any teachers with the MOE who are impoverished.  (My wife and her sister are both MOE teachers, and I'm rather familiar with the system here.)

    I should also mention that another aspect of Singaporean culture is that there is a very heavy emphasis on education to get ahead.  Much of this is due to Chinese Confucian culture, but all of the ethnicities living here have this mentality.  There is very little denigration of the educational system here, and most parents are supportive of the teachers and their efforts.

    Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

    by JDsg on Sat Sep 03, 2011 at 10:31:10 AM PDT

  •  Dear Randi (0+ / 0-)

    I am UFT and you sold us out time and time again.  You started in NYC and continued to do so with a larger audience.

    In NYC you let co-locations happen.  You let them put in non-union charter schools into public schools.

    In NYC you let senior transfers go away so they hire young teachers and go after senior teachers.

    In NYC you let them budget schools based on teachers’ salaries instead of the old method. Now schools won’t hire people with 10+ years experience.

    In NYC you forced lousy contracts with YEARS of 0% raises and  that was when the economy was good.

    You did so many anti teacher things that I could type for hours.

    I watched you at DA (Union Delegate Assemble)  meetings and watched you break rules to pass things against teacher’s interests.  I even remember the time when you got booed for it (your Unity party members booed, too). I voted against many of the things you said would be good and I was right.

    You are a fraud.  You are an embarrassment.  You are a sellout.

    I am PRO UNION!!!!!!

    I am ANTI YOU!

    SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  •  An outstanding Teacher Ed Program (0+ / 0-)

    Twenty years ago I was lucky enough to attend the best teacher ed program I know of.

    I had already been teaching for several years, but even after all that time, I felt that I still did not have all the tools I needed to become an outstanding teacher.

    I knew that teaching is a profession.  And professions by their nature operate with a received body of knowledge, a theoretical framework.  I remember that old TV show, The Paper Chase, a show about Harvard Law School, in which the main pro/antagonist, Professor Kingsfield, intones "You teach yourself the law; I teach you how to think like a lawyer."  That's true for so many professions - not just lawyers.

    Well, where was the theoretical framework for teaching? I mean, you'd have to have a grasp of what learning is in the first place, how knowledge is constructed.  Knowing that, you'd have the basis of working out how you'd proceed with a given curriculum, a given educational setting, and a given student.  In other words, you'd learn to "think like a teacher."  And this would be different than thinking like a lawyer, like a doctor, like an engineer.

    So imagine the gratification I felt to discover that such a framework exists, and that there was a program that taught it, located at UC Berkeley, my local college.  Not only that, but at that time, it was possible for working teachers to join the program, a situation quite rare for a UC institution.

    The program is centered on developmental psychology, with particular emphasis on the genesis of knowledge, that is, epistemology.  Featured theoreticians included Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, both of whose bodies of work I had "studied" in my previous training.  Except this time, the professors teaching the program actually understood what those thinkers actually were talking about. It was a revelation.

    Indeed, ever since that time, over twenty years ago now, I felt like my mind was opened, and as I look at people arguing educational issues, it's kind of like a doctor watching the public debating the merits of various barbershops in implementing more modern bloodletting procedures. Breeding the best leech. That sort of thing.

    This stuff is not hard to learn, though it is, for some people, hard to accept. But isn't that the case with a lot in science - evolution, climate change, etc.?  But I sure wish more people would know about it. We'd sure save ourselves a lot of wheel spinning.

    Oh, and the name of the program is Developmental Teacher Education. It still exists at Berkeley, though like many excellent UC programs, it's being scaled back in the present cash-poor climate.

    Oh, and you're obviously not going to learn every single thing about the mind there - that's in some sense a goal that you have to work on yourself, knowing the impossibility of ever understanding more than a fraction of what's possible.

    But you do get a theoretical framework. You do learn to "think like a teacher."

    None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

    by Toddlerbob on Sat Sep 03, 2011 at 09:58:16 PM PDT

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