US_news analysis | Too Many Teacher Colleges Aren’t Making the Grade, Experts Tell Committee

Alexa Marrero is spokeswoman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“Lack of Accountability Results in Fewer Qualified Teachers, Lower Quality Education”

N e w s A n a l y s i s

May 22, 2003 – Testifying before the House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, chaired by Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), witnesses today explored what many see as a lack of accountability in teacher colleges and other teacher training programs in America. As the House prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), a stated priority of Education & the Workforce Committee Republicans and Democrats alike is to improve the quality and accountability of teacher training programs to ensure the availability of highly qualified teachers who are key to the success of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, the K-12 education reform legislation signed into law in January 2002.

The No Child Left Behind Act calls for a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the 2005-2006 school year, lending new urgency as legislators seek to ensure that teacher colleges are producing highly skilled graduates. Every child deserves the chance to learn from a highly qualified teacher, Committee members noted during the hearing, and teacher training programs ought to be meeting the call of the No Child Left Behind Act and providing highly qualified teachers to the nation’s children.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige commended Chairman McKeon for holding today’s hearing on what he described as the critical issue of teacher quality. In a written statement Paige noted that “Teachers are the heart and soul of the classroom. We shortchange the nation’s students and undermine their prospects for success if the teaching workforce is not highly qualified.”

“There is widespread awareness that the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills of teachers play a central role in the success of elementary and secondary education reform,” said McKeon. “More than half of the 2.2 million teachers that America’s schools will need to hire over the next 10 years will be first-time teachers, and they will need to be well-prepared for the challenges of today’s classrooms.

“For these reasons, the nation’s attention has increasingly focused on the role that institutions of higher education and states play in ensuring that new teachers have the content knowledge and teaching skills they need to ensure that all students are held to higher standards,” continued McKeon.

In June 2002, the Secretary of Education issued the first full annual report on teacher preparation as required under Title II of the Higher Education Act. The report – Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge: The Secretary’s Annual Report on Teacher Quality – concluded that the teacher preparation system in this country has serious limitations. Not only does acceptable achievement on certification assessments differ markedly among the states, the Secretary’s report found that most states, in setting the minimum score considered to be a passing score, set those scores well below national averages. The data collected for this report suggest that schools of education and formal teacher training programs are failing to produce the types of highly qualified teachers that the No Child Left Behind Act demands.

Lisa Graham Keegan, CEO of the Education Leaders Council, testified before the Subcommittee on what she described as the misaligned focus of teacher education programs on pedagogy rather than content. “You’re asking a very important question with this hearing: Are colleges of education getting the job done? It’s an appropriate question, and you’re right to be concerned about it. The answer is a simple one: No, they’re not,” said Keegan. “And it’s largely because they have lost sight of what it is that teachers need to know. Colleges spend their time focusing on pedagogy – some of it bordering on the downright bizarre – and not on the kind of content in which I think most of us assume our teachers are being instructed.”

Keegan described the effect these pedagogy-focused teacher education programs have on the curriculum taught in schools, noting that “we have English standards that don’t talk about specific writers; history standards that don’t talk about specific events; and math standards that don’t talk about multiplication tables.”

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, described what she called “core problems” in Title II of the Higher Education Act that could lead to a lack of quality and accountability in teacher training programs.

“Because of the ways in which the current Title II accountability provisions were crafted, too many institutions that prepare teachers have been able to avoid real accountability and, even within institutions where there is new-found accountability, those who do the academic side of teacher preparation are off the hook,” said Haycock. “And woefully inadequate data systems interfere with both reporting and action on these issues, and hamper the efforts of those who insist that teacher quality should be judged not on proxy measures of their qualifications but on what matters most: their ability to grow student knowledge and skills,” she continued.

Dr. Louanne Kennedy, provost and vice-president for academic affairs at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), described an initiative called “Teachers for a New Era,” in which four universities, including CSUN, participate in a program designed to strengthen and improve teacher education programs by focusing on evidence-based methods, integration of subject matter knowledge and teaching knowledge, and a “clinical” approach to teacher education that provides intensive hands-on experience.

“‘Teachers for a New Era’ recognizes that raising the level of pupil achievement in the K-12 schools depends upon improving the quality of K-12 teaching. Research indicates that the quality of the teacher is the most important predictor of pupil achievement among all children,” noted Kennedy. “This reform initiative creates well-supported, widely-adopted, fully-integrated approaches to teacher education, based upon three design principles and several issues that are essential to preparing effective classroom teachers. Ultimately, this initiative will transform teacher education in the United States.”

The success of K-12 education reform is largely dependent on the quality of teachers in America’s classrooms, noted McKeon. “We are here today to learn whether provisions under Title II of the Higher Education Act are working, and whether our teacher preparation programs are making the grade.”