NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Transforming Teacher Colleges

October 29, 2013

Let's give up on education majors. Too much theory, not enough practical learning about teaching, says Barbara Nemko and Harold Kwalwasser, writing for the Wall Street Journal.

  • Four months ago, the National Council on Teacher Quality released a report asserting that approximately 1,100 of the nation's 1,400 teacher-preparation programs are inadequate.

The problem dates to the 19th or early 20th century, when these schools first opened. Teachers at that time, most of them women or minorities, weren't expected to have great skills. Education professors assumed their students could only teach if given a script to read every day. But after the civil-rights and feminist movements, these once underestimated individuals had other opportunities, leaving the weak curriculum consistent with the collective quality of students.

  • By 2010, the mean critical-reading SAT score of entering college freshmen was 501, but for education majors it was 481.
  • The math score was 516 compared with 486, and in writing, 492 versus 477.

Two simple but radical changes could transform teaching in America. First, require aspiring teachers to major in something other than education. Students who want to be math teachers must major in math, for example, and fulfill the same graduation requirements as the school's other math majors. Same for English and science. That alone would improve the quality of teachers enormously.

Next, take state funding for colleges of education and give it to school districts instead. The districts would take on the obligation of teacher training, either doing it themselves or contracting with an outside organization or university. Many districts already train this way with what's called "alternative certification," and research suggests that these programs can be more effective than traditional, college-based programs.

Many good school districts have robust professional development programs for their already-hired teachers. Requiring them to supervise or provide training for new teachers is simply an add-on to a program, not a new invention. In general, empowering school districts to provide teacher training will make them much more demanding than colleges of education-because districts have to live with the results.

Source: Barbara Nemko and Harold Kwalwasser, "Why Teacher Colleges Get a Flunking Grade," Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2013.


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