Opinion

The Great Debate

Preparing our teachers improves our future

By Jack Markell
June 21, 2013

Teacher hands out assignments to her first grade class at Walsh Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

Too many new teachers are not prepared for their first day in the classroom. And few programs today effectively train them, a report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) concludes.

These findings are sobering, since few professions have a greater impact on our nation’s future. The research is clear: Teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in a student’s academic success.

Often, our teacher preparation programs don’t attract the strongest applicants to begin with. Less than 25 percent of American teachers come from the top third of college graduates, according to a 2010 McKinsey & Company report, compared to 100 percent in Singapore, Finland and South Korea. Only about 25 percent of our preparation programs restrict admissions to the top half of the college-going population.

To address this, in Delaware we brought together leaders in higher education, public school administrators, policy makers and, most important, teachers — and their union — to create a blueprint for strengthening teacher preparation. I signed legislation last week that lays the groundwork for our new approach.

We start by setting minimum criteria for acceptance to teacher preparation programs. To qualify, students must have a at least a 3.0 grade point average, rank in the top half of their class or pass a state-approved exam. We give institutions flexibility to waive the prerequisites for a limited number of applicants.

Next, we ensure these teachers in training participate in quality student teaching experiences — which NCTQ found lacking in 93 percent of programs. Student teaching will now be interwoven throughout a program’s curriculum, including a substantial full-time component.

More than 70 percent of current programs do not incorporate research-based reading instruction methods, according to NCTQ, while about 80 percent do not set high expectations in math. With the implementation of our new law, Delaware requires both.

While many professionals — like doctors and nurses — can’t qualify for licenses without demonstrating that they can apply their knowledge, teachers are often licensed just by passing basic written exams. The state will now require that all preparation programs conduct regular reviews of candidates, followed by exit assessments. All new educators must then pass a state performance assessment in addition to a written exam to ensure they understand and can apply the content they will teach.

Finally, the law holds both the state and the preparation programs accountable for putting more great teachers in Delaware’s classrooms. We will track and report on the effectiveness of each college and university’s graduates, using that data as part of our program approval process and to ensure effective practices are used statewide.

Upgrading teacher preparation represents an important part of any strategy to improve the teaching profession. But it can only have the desired effect as part of a larger plan.

We have conducted a statewide teaching and learning conditions survey to more fully understand our teachers’ views, and have transformed “professional development” programs through new “professional learning communities.” Under this initiative, all teachers must meet with a small group of their peers for 90 minutes each week to discuss student data and instructional practices.

We are also looking to improve our compensation system, through increased teacher starting salaries and additional pay for educators who provide leadership to their peers, as well as those who teach in schools serving high-need students or hard-to-staff subject areas like math and science.

Giving every student access to quality teaching is not only a moral obligation — it is an economic imperative.

Hundreds of times, I’ve asked Delaware business leaders and entrepreneurs what our state can do for them. Their most common answer is what I found in my own private sector career: Better access to a skilled workforce. They recognize they cannot execute their innovative ideas without talented, adaptable employees.

The one way our job creators will succeed is if we ensure our educators are well equipped to do their jobs. That can only happen if we value the teaching profession as much as the success of our kids.

 

PHOTO (Insert A): Teacher Jaclyn Kruljac speaks to her 5th grade class at Walsh Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, Mar. 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

PHOTO (Insert B): Teacher Audrey Benes speaks to her kindergarten class at Walsh Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, Mar. 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

 

 

 

Comments
6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I teacher special education. We reviewed all of the major reading programs while I was getting my certification. None of the programs available, not a single one, are research validated. They may be research BASED, but that isn’t the same as research VALIDATED. None of the “research” is peer reviewed. Most don’t even publish their “research.” They basically just say “yeah, we researched it.” Sometimes the studies they do cite actually cite each other!

So, I agree that we should be using research validated reading programs, but they don’t exist. Until that day comes, I choose to rely on my professional judgment.

Posted by josefski | Report as abusive
 

And apparently I forgot how to proofread. Doh!

Posted by josefski | Report as abusive
 

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Posted by Shamizar | Report as abusive
 

What “teacher preparation program” doesn’t prepare candidates for teaching their first day?

A number of the discussion points in this article seem to have been created from thin air.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

Blaming teachers for the sorry state of our “educational system” is nothing more than a “strawman argument” to cover for the permanent decline in this country due to factors they cannot control.

The real problem, which education cannot resolve, is the total failure (once again) of our economic system.

The reasons for that failure are far too numerous for me to enumerate in this venue, but suffice it to say the wealthy elite have no interest in creating a well-trained US workforce to meet the demands of our society.

It is far easier to import cheaper labor than to make any long-term commitment to the American people in terms of educating their children.

We are a nation of “temps” — as in using temporary workers for seasonal overload, for example — that can be shifted to where it is needed when it is needed.

Under those circumstances, why would the wealthy elite want to make any long-term commitments to your children in terms of education?

That makes no economic sense at all.

Thus, the obsessive handwringing of politicians and others concerned with the “problems” of our educational system are nothing more than a “red herring” to disguise what is really going on and why.

The really ugly truth is that if the wealthy elite wanted a highly-trained US workforce it would be done, but there is no economic incentive for them to create an “American” workforce.

The only way to create an educational system worthy of this nation — and the only way to ensure your children have any meaningful future at all — is to take away the economic incentives for the wealthy elite to import cheap labor.

Meanwhile, as we argue pointlessly about our educational system as to who is to blame for the failure of the system, or find scapegoats (like this article blaming teachers for what they cannot control) the wealthy elite are continuing to destory this nation for their own benefit.

Arguing with these people about the state of our educational system is not only pointless, but damaging to the future of this nation, mainly because it allows them to continue their delaying tactics, which ultimately works to their advantage in terms of ruining our economy so that in the end your children will have no future at all.

What is truly distressing is that you people with children worry more about your child’s physical safety in school, which is simply another short-term distraction (that could be solved if we chose to do it), while the real danger to your child’s future is seemingly beyond your ability to grasp — the total lack of any reasonably secure future in any terms you care to name.

Put another way, you become totally enraged by school shootings, but statistically speaking the chances of your child being involved in such an incident are vanishingly remote, while the real danger of condemning them to no future in this increasingly third world country economy is virtually a 100% certainty.

Simply put, without meaningful jobs for them once they graduate from school, there cannot be any future for them.

That fact should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to what is happening to this economy.

Can someone explain to me how you people with children can be so short-sighted as to allow this to happen?

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive
 

This NCTQ organization is a charter school front group, headed by the likes of the ever-political Michelle Rhee, who would much rather blame teachers unions than think about why education may be failing america’s children. In fact, if you factor in the poverty of students, which is a large chunk of US public schools, the US public education system is about middle of the pack in outcomes.

Bill Gates, and other investors who have a lot to gain are responsible for this charter school push. I think they are honest, in that they think what they are doing might actually help. But they also openly say what they think: that unions are basically the problem, when the reality shows that this perspective is without any factual merit. Perhaps if public schools were not chronically underfunded it wouldn’t be such a problem. Or, put another way, perhaps if people in the USA were more interested in education, not to get a job, but to become a better person, emphasis would be put back on learning where it belongs. Instead we have presidents who malign academics and are proud of their ignorance more generally.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive
 

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