Katie Nettles watches Tonja Whitenack as she participates in a Project Based Learning workshop for teachers and administrators at Leon Sheffield Elementary School in Decatur, Ala. Photo: AP Photo/Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr.
You may have noticed The Hechinger Report’s recent return to one of our favorite topics: teacher preparation. In September, we launched a new reporting project to examine an issue that is critical in the discussion about how to improve American schools, but which often gets short shrift in policy discussions and the media.
It’s a particularly crucial moment to examine how to better prepare the U.S.Â teachingÂ force. The U.S. Department of Education proposed new rules for teacher preparation programs last year which are due to be finalized by the end of the year. The regulations would require programs to gather more data about their graduates and how those new teachers fare in the classroom. There are few ways to know if schools of education are producing strongÂ teachers, but the pressure to improve has forced many schoolsÂ of education to rethink their curriculum and approach to training.
Alternative programs are proliferating, even as evidence is lacking or mixed on the effectiveness and long-term feasibility of these programs. At the same time, many states are threatened with major shortages especially in crucial areas like math, science and special education. And the ongoing debate over how to close the country’s stubborn racial achievement gap has elevated a persistent problem: an overwhelmingly white teaching force at a time when the student population has become “majority minority.”
Our project will examine the major questions in the field: What are the most importantÂ qualities of effective teachersÂ and how mightÂ teacherÂ training programs foster these? What elements matterÂ most in a high-quality program, and are they present at the institutions producing the bulk of our teachers?Â How should institutions be held accountable for improving theÂ quality of their graduates, and how are various accountability systems or rankings forcing change for theÂ better (or worse)? Where are the bright spots inÂ teacherÂ preparation, and how might lessons learned from theÂ example be spread? How doÂ teachersÂ feel about the level of preparationÂ they’re given in different programs,Â and what can institutions learn from their experiences once they take over their own classrooms?
We believe that the people practicing in schools of education – the presidents, deans and professors – alongÂ with leaders and educators in alternativeÂ teacherÂ preparationÂ programs, must have access to information aboutÂ changes in the field and be engaged in the discussion about reforms, innovations and research about bestÂ practices. We’ll seek to provide that information and a forum for that discussion here, and we welcome suggestions, questions, and your opinions along the way.