Preparing our teachers improves our future
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.
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