Teacher Preparation: One Size Does Not Fit All
Ohanian Comment: in 2005, when Public Agenda was planning Education Insights, they sought advice from a number of seasoned observers of education reform. As part of the effort, Deborah Wadsworth, recently retired President of Public Agenda, led an exploratory committee whose members included: Ramon Cortines, former Chancellor of Schools in New York City and former Superintendent of Schools in Los Angeles; David Coleman, President of The Grow Network; Lloyd Morrisett, former President of the Markle Foundation; Thomas Payzant, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools; Hugh Price, former President of the National Urban League; Diane Ravitch, author and former Assistant Secretary of Education; and Michael Usdan, Senior Fellow, Institute for Educational Leadership."
I started to look for the questions Public Agenda asked in their poll, but then I decided that life is short and I'm busy. I'll just remind you of what Jerry Bracey often warned us about: You always need to see how the questions were phrased, and then you need to beware of the attitudes people bring to the interpretation of data. And more than once he used Public Agenda as an example. This outfit is known for conducting polls characterized by loaded questions with impossible choices.
Sam Smith, alternative journalist and founder of the Progressive Review, observes that "polls are the standardizest test used by the media to determine how well we have learned what it has taught us."
Kathy Emery and I put Public Agenda on our warning list in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? By 2000, the Business Roundtable had managed to create an interlocking network of business associations, corporate foundations, governors' associations, non-profits, and educational institutions. This network includes the Education Trust, Annenberg Center, Harvard Graduate School, Public Agenda, Achieve, Inc., Education Commission of the States, the Broad Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, federally funded regional laboratories, and most newspaper editorial boards. Of course by now this network is led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
You can find more specific examples about how Public Agenda operates in our book, which is turning out to be more timely now than when we wrote it. Probably that's because life in the public school classroom has become more dangerous.
Recognizing and compensating teacher preparation programs that work the best seems like a good idea in theory, but how do we measure the success of these programs? Who says they work the best? And what if these programs, while doing well at meeting the needs of some teachers, aren't doing so for others, especially for those in the most at-risk classrooms?
As part of an effort to improve teacher preparation programs, the Department of Education recently proposed a number of initiatives aimed at increasing teacher preparedness, and one of the proposed measures includes rewarding high-performing teacher preparation programs and scaling them up. We agree that that teacher preparation programs need to be reexamined. Yet, based on in-depth research we conducted with first-year teachers, those who are closest to these preparation programs, there are a few areas that we believe will need extra attention when determining the highest-performing programs.
While the majority of new teachers in general told us that their training on direct instruction helped them "a lot" and reported feeling either very or somewhat prepared for their first year teaching, certain segments of new teachers-middle school and secondary teachers, teachers with special-needs students, and teachers with ethnically diverse classrooms-were much less likely to say they felt prepared to address their particular challenges, and much more likely to be critical of their teacher preparation program. At a time when schools have increasingly ethnically and racially diverse populations, and when nearly all new teachers say they have at least some special-needs students in their classrooms, these teachers say their training did not adequately prepare them for the unique challenges they face in their classrooms.
Perhaps, before rewarding teacher preparation programs, we need to take a closer look at them first, and make sure they're preparing all teachers, not just some. Have you heard a teacher talk about what helped prepare them for the classroom? How do you think the Department of Education should reward teacher preparation programs? Let us know-share your thoughts on Facebook or tell us on Twitter.