A Pipeline for Great New Teachers
When I was deputy state superintendent in Michigan my boss, Tom Watkins referred to our colleges of education as the “weakest link” in education. As I read Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks made at Teachers College, Columbia University on October 22, 2009, I thought he was heading in the same direction—and for a while he was.
He raised many of the concerns that have been raised in the past about America’s teacher preparation programs including several examples taken from Arthur Levine’s 2006 report, “Remaking Teacher Education.” He also talked about the need to produce lots of new teachers given the pending retirements of the “baby boom” educators, and the reality that alternative certificate routes, while getting lots of attention, don’t account for that many new teachers.
But then the secretary changed course and spoke of his optimism about important new initiatives. He talked about Jim Cibulka, the new president at NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), and its major revision of teacher education requirements that should strengthen the clinical focus of teacher preparation programs. And the secretary talked about other excellent programs, several of which Levine highlighted in his 2006 report.
What frustrated me is that the Secretary said nothing about our opportunity build a pipeline that can significantly improve the number of great teachers we have in the classroom, and at the same time, increase the number of underrepresented teachers, i.e., males, Hispanics and African-Americans. How do we do this? We recruit from a captive audience, students in our middle level and high schools.
It’s almost like we’re ashamed to do this, yet any other business would KILL to have the opportunities we have to recruit those young people we want teaching in our classrooms. Some school districts, e.g., Jefferson County schools in Kentucky, in partnerships with local universities GET IT. They recruit and they’re getting great results. They identify potential teachers in middle school when students are first deciding on their careers. Then they nurture, mentor and support these young people through high school, through college and back into their school district. And they get lots of great teachers as a result—great teachers who stay.
Think how absurd this is! Current national policy, through career technical funding provided through federal Perkins IV legislation, supports with lots of money, high school programs that develop the next generation of retailers, technicians, farmers, and health care specialists, but there’s not one penny for the next generation of educators.
The number one way to improve public education in America is to have more great teachers. Few will argue with that. Of course, investments to improve our teaching force must be viewed in the long-term. We will not see results in just a couple of years. But why would we not do everything possible, including developing comprehensive recruiting and mentoring programs in middle level and high schools, to ensure that our future classroom teachers are the best in the world?