One cannot look at the current state of public education in America, especially in urban and rural areas, and not see a crisis that is worsened by the manner in which new teachers are prepared.
In 2010, a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute revealed the extent of the disconnect between teacher preparation and classroom needs. The study of 700 education school professors from around the country found the following:
• Only 24 percent believe it "absolutely essential" to produce "teachers who understand how to work with the state's standards, tests and accountability systems."
• 37 percent say it is "absolutely essential" to focus on developing "teachers who maintain discipline and order in the classroom."
• 39 percent find it "absolutely essential" to "create teachers who are trained to address the challenges of high-needs students in urban districts."
For anyone who is or has been a teacher and anyone who has been a school leader, these skills are nonnegotiable. Having these skills helps ensure that students acquire the knowledge they need to be successful; not having them means they don't.
Training received through alternate routes to teaching, especially Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, emphasize standards-based planning, classroom management and teaching traditionally high-needs above many others. The emphasis provided by these programs, despite some of their well-recognized insufficiencies, underscores why principals rank these teachers so highly and why many studies conclude teachers entering the profession through these routes are more effective in their early years.
A more recent report in 2013 by the National Center for Teacher Quality is even more critical of traditional teacher preparation. In that report of 1,130 colleges and departments of education, the authors write, "Through an exhaustive and unprecedented examination of how these schools operate, the Review finds they have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity."
Among other points highlighted in this study were the low standards for admission to teacher education programs, the lack of academic rigor within the programs, and the absence of coordinated and guided classroom training to become a teacher.
Countries that have surpassed the United States in student achievement train their teachers better, according to Amanda Ripley in her recent book The Smartest Kids in the World. Ripley examined three countries — Poland, Finland and South Korea — to determine why they educate their children so much better than does the United States. Ripley hails Finland, in particular, for its selectivity in admitting candidates to teacher preparation programs.
While Finland admits only the best and brightest to its teacher preparation programs, colleges of education in the United States consistently accept students who, based on the Graduate Record Exam, rank among the lowest applicants for postgraduate study at the nation's universities.
The NCTQ study makes the following recommendations to rectify this situation: increasing the requirements to get into a teacher preparation programs; mandating more subject area knowledge of teachers; and holding teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates. Lastly, NCTQ insists that much more substantial student teaching is essential to hone the professional skills of teachers in classroom management and lesson planning. Assessment is also emphasized. Many of these recommendations are embedded in the promising design of a new teacher preparation program being developed at the Relay Graduate School of Education.
Florida is recognized as an early leader in reforming teacher preparation, according to the NCTQ study — an encouraging sign and one worthy of continued and increased support. Just as the state has been willing to close or reconstitute K-12 schools for the persistent underachievement of its students, Florida must be willing to do that with the programs that poorly prepare teachers.
Teacher education finds itself at a historic crossroads: an antiquated model and a disconnect between inputs, outcomes and demands. To continue selecting and preparing teachers in the same way will get the same results. And that is simply not good enough.
David R. Colburn is the director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brian Dassler is chief academic officer, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a public school serving students from across Louisiana. He can be reached at email@example.com. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.