Secondary Teacher Preparation and the Challenge for School Districts

This past week saw the publication of an important report card of interest to school districts as well as prospective teachers and their parents.  The National Council on Teacher Quality issued the Teacher Prep Review Report for 2013.  Any district engaged in hiring new teachers will want to consider the quality of the program from which the prospective new hire is graduating, and the Report is an excellent source of advice.

We have witnessed the decline in US students’ knowledge of critical subjects like mathematics, science and reading, skill areas that are critical for our economic prosperity.  This new report from the National Council points directly to one important cause of the poor achievement levels of our children in American schools – the quality of teacher preparation programs from America’s colleges and universities.  Penley on Education and Energy has written before of the critical role that teacher preparation plays, e.g., in the implementation of common core standards.

The Report makes clear the challenge faced by prospective teachers and school districts that are hiring new teachers.  It is especially pronounced in certain regions of the US.  In my own Western region there were only six Honor Roll programs in secondary teacher preparation, including Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton College.  Those six programs represent all of the Mountain West and Western states.  Not one of the six Honor Roll programs in the West and Mountain West also had affordable tuition, according to the Report.

In the southeastern states and Texas, there were several affordable options from the Honor Roll for secondary teacher preparation.  They included Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Texas – Pan American, Arkansas Tech University, Austin Peay State University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Central Arkansas, and Texas Southern University. But only 23 programs in the entire country made the list of Honor Roll secondary teacher preparation programs with affordable tuition.

The National Council on Teacher Quality’s Report is explicit about what needs to be done by school districts:

a. Enact a policy that student teachers can only be assigned to highly effective teachers (based on measureable student learning results) who are capable adult mentors.

b. Manage carefully the number of student teaching placements in your district in light of the overproduction of teachers, especially in elementary education programs.

c. Districts should raise standards for the qualifications of teacher candidates to whom the district will offer placements.

d. Insist that the placing academic institution take into account and weigh heavily the district’s evaluation of a student teacher.

Let us hope that actions like these recommended ones by the Council for school districts will create the needed pressure on colleges and universities to improve their teacher preparation programs.   Out prosperity and quality of life depend upon it.

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