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Few teachers well-trained

Published June 24, 2013 11:57 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

More than 100 years ago, an examination of American medical schools led to a sea change in how they educated aspiring doctors. It called on them to enact higher admission and graduation standards and to adhere to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research.

Now we come to the preparation of classroom teachers for pre-kindergarten through 12 education. How do we know institutions of teacher training are preparing our children's teachers for accountability in instruction and improvement in student learning?

Sadly, now we know.

A new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows that the majority of teacher preparation programs in the United States offer inadequate training to aspiring teachers, leaving them unprepared to enter classrooms ready for the instructional goals of public schools.

Among more than 1,100 educational institutions evaluated by name, only 11 percent of elementary programs and 35 percent of secondary programs are providing adequate preparation for teachers in the subjects they will teach.

In Utah, no elementary programs are ensuring that teacher candidates receive the content needed to teach effectively. Secondary programs perform somewhat better, with four of nine earning a high rating.

Utah programs do a better job than many states preparing teacher candidates in reading, math and classroom management, but three-quarters of Utah programs fail to guarantee a high-quality student teaching experience.

The nation as a whole is undergoing massive demographic and cultural shifts. Unlike in past generations, our public schools today serve an ever-expanding mix of children from varied ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.

It is a disservice to all children and dangerous for the country if we continue to allow the preparation of teachers to continue with business as usual. One-size teaching no longer works.

A major part of the problem lies in who even qualifies to be a teacher. In countries where students outperform their U.S. counterparts, teacher-prep schools recruit candidates from the top third of the college-going population.

The NCTQ review found that only one in four U.S. programs restricts admission to even the top half of the college-going population. Only 39 percent of Utah programs set sufficient selection criteria.

As for instruction across the country, the review found that nearly three quarters of the programs evaluated are not providing elementary teacher candidates with practical, research-based training in how to teach reading; only 18 percent of math training programs replicate practices of higher performing nations; only 7 percent of programs make sure their students do their classroom training with a teacher designated as "effective"; and barely 1 in 5 programs provides teacher candidates with concrete classroom management strategies to address behavior problems.

These trends are underway as political leaders impose one policy du jour after another, from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top to the Common Core State Standards.

And all this is happening as countries like China and India, with populations that vastly outnumber our own, are pouring enormous new resources into education to prepare more of their people for jobs in the global economy.

Worse yet, many U.S. teacher-prep schools have resisted making critical changes that would improve their programs' effectiveness.

Those of us in leadership positions need to take these NCTQ findings to heart and push for instructional strategies that align more closely with needs in the classroom. Our country can afford no less.

Marti Watson Garlett is the founding dean of the Teachers College at Western Governors University and a member of the NCTQ board of directors.