Don’t Blame Teachers for Shortcomings of Teacher Prep Programs
By Dr. John J. Russell, Head, The Windward School
The quality of teachers has long been identified as the most significant influence on student achievement. Acknowledging the importance of teacher quality, the federal No Child Left Behind Act required that by 2005-06 all children should be taught by “highly qualified” teachers in the core academic subjects. Unfortunately this ambitious goal is not close to being achieved.
In 2014, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its annual review of teacher preparation programs in the United States, Teacher Prep Review 2014. As was the case in previous studies, colleges and universities were once again cited for their substandard preparation of teachers. The NCTQ report confirms that there is still a significant disconnect between the preparation teachers need in order to be successful and the preparation they actually receive in their pre-service education courses.
Teacher preparation programs simply do not sufficiently prepare new teachers for the classroom, and state licensing examinations are not rigorous enough to protect students from teachers who are ill-equipped to teach subject areas such as math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. For example, in its 2014 review, NCTQ evaluated 687 pre-service education programs that claim to prepare teachers to teach students identified as “struggling readers” and found that 75 percent of these programs did not meet the basic standards set by NCTQ. In response to these deficiencies, at The Windward School, every new faculty member – those with teaching experience as well as those just starting their teaching career – enter a two-year professional development program at The Windward Teaching Training Institute. This comprehensive teacher-training program presents instructional practices and curriculums that are based on the latest validated research.
A solid knowledge of effective pedagogy and research-based curriculum is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient to insure high quality teaching. Teachers must also be able to effectively deliver instruction. In an attempt to improve the quality of new teachers, a handful of schools of education have recently increased the length of student-teaching in their pre-service teacher preparation programs from the typical 12 weeks to 24 weeks or more. In stark contrast, teachers new to Windward are required to work in the classrooms of a master teacher for extended periods of time – minimally one year, more often two or three years. In addition to the invaluable learning experience of seeing master teachers expertly deliver a research-based program, new teachers receive continuous targeted feedback and mentoring from the master teachers, curriculum coordinators, and administrators. The combination of intensive mentoring and rigorous course work has proven to be absolutely necessary in order to develop the full potential of new teachers.
If this country is to achieve the goal of having all students taught by “highly qualified” teachers as stated in No Child Left Behind, it will require colleges to do much more than merely increasing the length of student-teaching. Ultimately if colleges and universities are serious about preparing pre-service teachers to teach effectively, they must offer them a rigorous program of study and practice that will provide a solid foundation in the most effective research-based instructional practices and curriculums. With this background knowledge in place, an expanded and refined student-teacher experience has the real possibility of improving the quality of teaching. #