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Denying Tenure is Only Part of the Solution

Recently, the New York City Education Department announced that in 2012 only 55 percent of eligible teachers were awarded tenure. In comparison, 97 percent of eligible teachers received tenure in 2007. Mayor Bloomberg and the Education Department deserve kudos for making tenure something more than a right of passage and raising the standards by which it is granted. While the low percentage of teachers receiving tenure raises serious questions about the qualifications of the teachers that are hired and the level of support they receive in their first years of teaching, the root cause of this high failure rate can be directly traced to the pre-service education that prospective teachers receive.

The most striking example of the failure of colleges and universities to educate teachers adequately is in the preparation that elementary school teachers receive in reading instruction. In order to teach reading effectively, teachers must be knowledgeable of oral and written language concepts as well as the most effective research-based instructional practices (Budin, Mather, & Cheesman, 2010). Unfortunately, there remains a significant disconnect between the preparation teachers need in order to meet these standards and the preparation they actually receive in their pre-service and graduate education courses. Teacher preparation programs simply do not sufficiently prepare new teachers for the classroom. In the Journal of Learning Disabilities (2009), Louisa Moats cites research by Walsh, Glaser, & Dunne-Wilcox (2006) in which it was found that "courses provided in teacher licensing programs are often insufficient in content and design to enable the students to learn the subject matter and apply it to the teaching of reading." An earlier study (Moats & Lyon, 1996) also demonstrated that teachers have "insufficiently developed concepts about language and pervasive conceptual weaknesses in the very skills that are needed for direct, systematic, language-focused reading instruction, such as the abilities to count phonemes and to identify phonic relationships." Moats and Lyon's hypothesis has been confirmed by Cheesman et al. (2009) who found that only 18 percent of first-year teachers could distinguish between phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Since reading difficulties are the most common cause of academic failure and student underachievement, it is imperative that these instructional deficits of teachers be addressed.

Ideally colleges and universities would stop indoctrinating new teachers with outdated and incorrect beliefs about how to teach reading, many of which have been directly contradicted by research. Mark Seidenberg (2012) described the problem more directly: "Few prospective teachers are exposed to modern research that is relevant to their jobs. They are unprepared to critically assess scientific claims, leaving them vulnerable to fads and fallacies." Since pre-service programs are failing to prepare new teachers and denying tenure to large numbers of teachers is costly and inefficient, professional development focused on research-based instructional practices is critical in supporting teachers new to the profession.

The Windward School has long recognized the importance of professional development in research-based instructional practices as an effective mechanism to develop the expertise necessary to effectively teach language, reading, and writing. A significant portion of the program is focused on closing the gap between a teacher's knowledge and the effective implementation of sound reading and writing instruction. A vivid example of the School's commitment to professional development is the construction of a new, state-of-art facility for the Windward Teacher Training Institute (WTTI) at the West Red Oak campus. The Windward Teacher Training Institute offers a comprehensive professional development program to the entire Windward faculty and to teachers from the broader educational community. 

Despite overwhelming evidence documenting the effectiveness of research-based instruction, most colleges and universities still do not provide pre-service programs focused on instructional practices that have been scientifically validated. To address this deficiency in pre-service preparation, The Windward School and other schools provide professional development programs in research-based instructional practices so that dedicated, conscientious teachers are able to succeed.

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