Our collective commitment to excellent teachers for all of our children is the measurement of a great society and is essential to the prosperity of a true democracy. Yet teacher education is currently under attack by organizations that are well funded by individuals and organizations with self-interests.
Here in Maine, we have a nationally recognized program of excellence in teacher education yet a recent report chose to not even review the program. In her 2004 book “Power Teacher Education,” Linda Darling-Hammond recognized the graduate-level Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine as exemplary. ETEP was selected as one of only 29 programs nationwide to host Woodrow Wilson Rockefeller Brothers Foundation Aspiring Teachers of Color fellows and has been selected by four fellows in the past three years. ETEP alumni have earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards licensure and been recognized around the state of Maine as teachers of the year in their districts.
Yet the scathing reports on teacher preparation as an “industry of mediocrity” released this week by the self-appointed National Council on Teacher Quality didn’t review this program. The methodology and reliability of the “research” on which these accusations are made are mediocre at best. The study has been widely critiqued. Only 1 percent of the 2,420 programs studied “freely cooperated” with the data collection as reported by NCTQ on their website.
Arthur McKee, the managing director of teacher preparation studies at NCTQ, was recently quoted on Maine Public Radio as saying teacher education programs don’t prepare teacher for classroom management. Yet his only metric for this statement is based on absence of program use of a standardized observation form of classroom management from only 36 percent of programs sampled. This is not an accurate measure of what teachers know about classroom management.
The purpose of this report, like the recent grading of schools based mostly on student achievement scores on standardized tests, is to create the public perception of a failing public education system through simple sound bites based on a very simplistic four star rating formula. The NCTQ was founded in 2000 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation with the purpose of “harassing institutions of teacher education and finding alternative arrangements,” according to Diane Ravitch, who served on the board of the foundation at the time.
Like the grading of schools promoted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the purpose is to undermine public schools and institutions of higher education in order to limit government and promote the privatization of our public education system.
I have worked in public schools for 20 years in New York, Arkansas, Texas, Massachusetts, California and Maine. I know there are ways that many of our teacher education programs and public schools can improve. I also know that there are excellent things happening in many of our public schools as the demands on teachers are constantly increasing while they prepare all children in a highly diverse society for the demands of work and life in the 21st century.
The solution to high-quality teacher recruitment, preparation and professional development is a comprehensive set of public policy commitments to these goals. Other nations, such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea, that have made these commitments have successfully jumped to the top of the international ratings of student achievement while closing the academic achievement gaps between children of poverty and their wealthier counterparts.
These policies include two to three years of paid graduate teacher preparation with a stipend and well-prepared mentor teachers. Teachers are then paid comparable to engineers and lawyers in their countries. These types of policies help ensure that the competition for teacher preparation programs is very high, and programs are able to select from the top third of students completing bachelor’s degrees. In contrast, my graduate students must take out loans to pay for their preparation, which they must pay back based on salaries that are at least 14 percent less than they would earn in other professions requiring similar levels of preparation.
Yet, despite all of the obstacles we place in front of new teachers, I have the privilege of working daily with many of the brightest, most compassionate, dedicated professionals. As a mother of two school-age daughters, I tell my students that my expectation is that they will be good enough to teach my daughters and they are.
Flynn Ross is associate professor of teacher education and coordinator of the Portland Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine. She is a member of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN.