USDOE sends mixed messages on teacher education

Just recently, the U.S. Department of Education released its plan for teacher-education reform, pointing out that too many university-based programs “do not provide teachers with a rigorous, clinical experience that prepares them for the schools in which they will work.”

In an ironic twist, however, the Department’s Race to the Top guidelines have promoted the proliferation of alternative certification programs that shortcut pre-service training for new recruits. These programs give recruits limited or non-existent opportunities for “rigorous, clinical” preparation prior to teaching independently. Not only must university-based teacher education be improved, but we also need to think about what supports teachers are given while they’re teaching. There is no reason to believe that school districts are sufficiently suited to prepare teachers for the schools of today — or tomorrow, for that matter.

A recent study has shown that few teachers receive the “intensive, sustained, and content-focused professional development” that matters for student achievement. For example, as reported in the same study, over the course of a year only 9 percent of elementary math teachers had more than 24 hours of content-specific professional development in math. Many school-district officials just don’t value the kind of high-quality professional development that teachers (and their students) deserve. Instead, as seen in this stark display below (from a local news report on how school districts view teacher learning), archaic district-driven professional development prevails.

I wonder why USDOE officials, in pushing for much-needed changes in teacher education, don’t push school districts to transform their systems of professional development. The plan does indeed call for all teachers — including veteran teachers and recent graduates of preparation programs — to “receive professional development and career advancement opportunities that are aligned with their identified strengths and needs.”

However, USDOE does not call for scrutiny of school districts’ professional development programs. Maybe districts should be held accountable for the quality of support they provide to recently minted teacher-education graduates. Maybe if the USDOE called for such scrutiny, our nation would get a bit closer to creating the kind of comprehensive teacher-development system needed for the schools of today and tomorrow.