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Patrick R. Riccards's picture
For more than two decades, Patrick has worked at the intersection of education policy, research, and communications. He previously served as chief of staff to the National Reading Panel and as...
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Teacher Equity and Improved Teacher Prep

Earlier this year, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on each state to identify and implement specific strategies to ensure equitable distribution of our best nation’s best teachers. The thinking was there are real, actionable steps states can take to ensure high-quality teachers are the norm, not the exception, in our high-need schools.

In response to this call, Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine offered 15 specific recommendations on what states can do in teacher preparation efforts to build a robust pipeline of excellent teachers for all schools, particularly those serving historically disadvantaged students. These ideas keyed in on teacher preparation efforts that:

  1. Focus on entire states;
  2. Begin with the governor and build a statewide coalition;
  3. Are selective;
  4. Invest in recruitment;
  5. Focus on one-year master’s-degree teacher education programs;
  6. Are explicit in terms of program characteristics, assessment, and expectations;
  7. Are research-driven;
  8. Provide necessary resources for universities;
  9. Require “skin in the game” from universities;
  10. Foster strong partnerships between universities and school districts;
  11. Give universities the time to create excellent teacher education programs;
  12. Demand accountability;
  13. Work with universities and school districts to develop and implement excellent programs, and mentor students once they become teachers;
  14. Require third-party evidence-based assessment; and
  15. Require achievable sustainability plans.

While state strategies are not due to the Federal government until June 1, the U.S. Department of Education has spent a great deal of effort highlighting where the teacher inequities currently reside. Inequities, per a recent Politico analysis, such as:

  • In Pennsylvania, poor and minority students are less likely to have teachers who are licensed, certified, or highly qualified;

  • In Louisiana, 20 percent of classes high-poverty schools and 22 percent of classes of high-minority schools are taught be educators who are not deemed “highly qualified;”

  • In California, high-poverty and high-minority schools are more likely to have first-year and unlicensed teachers; and

  • In Florida, nearly one in five teachers is in his or her first year, and 15 percent lack the proper accreditation.

These facts should serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine when it comes to teacher preparation. These data points should tell us we need to do a better job preparing teachers for the challenges and opportunities of the classroom. And they speak loudly that the status quo simply isn’t getting the job done.

Last month, ED released new draft guidelines for teacher education, rules that would strengthen teacher education programs while placing a greater emphasis on teachers staying in the job beyond a year or two and students demonstrating the academic gains we all seek. Achieving these goals only comes when we embrace transformative efforts that ensure excellent prospective teachers, educators who have received the academic coursework, the classroom clinical preparation, and the mentoring they need to succeed as teachers of record in their own classrooms.

To improve teacher preparation efforts, and to ensure excellent teachers for those students who can benefit from them the most, we must look to build a better teacher ed mousetrap. Programs like the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, which serves as the foundation for Levine’s recommendations, is such an example. So too are efforts such as Urban Teacher Center, the Relay School of Education, and many others.

Unless we take bold steps to transform teacher education, we will be left with more statistics that paint a dire picture of teacher inequity in our classrooms. And will those stats will come an even graver impact on the students who have been promised a better education and opportunity.