Summit Focus: Better Teachers, Fast
WASHINGTON — Colleges set on producing quality teachers must give students more practice time in K-12 classrooms, members of Congress told college officials during a summit held here last month on how to produce better teachers.
“Too often the experience of a student in college is a few weeks of poorly supervised sessions in a classroom,” says Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the U.S. Senate committee that crafts federal education law. “Then, upon graduation, they are thrown into a classroom alone.”
The President’s Summit on Teacher Quality brought hundreds of college and university presidents to the nation’s capital to discuss the steps they can take to improve teacher preparation on their campuses.
The summit comes a year after Congress updated higher education laws to make states and colleges more accountable for the quality of about 1,300 colleges and universities with teacher-preparation programs that receive federal aid.
Lawmakers cited years of complaints that teacher colleges have been unwilling to make the changes necessary to turn out competent educators. Nearly all of the nation’s 2.7 million teachers have a bachelor’s degree, and nearly half have master’s degrees.
The majority of college programs require seven to 10 weeks of student teaching or other types of field training, says Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Education Information, a private education research group that is preparing a national survey of teacher preparation programs.
The center’s research indicates that less than 5 percent of the nation’s 356 college teacher preparation programs require more than four months of student teaching. Officials believe such little time in classrooms before graduation leaves teachers feeling less prepared for their duties.
To buttress that claim, they cite a U.S. Department of Education survey earlier this year that found four out of five of the nation’s public school teachers said they were not ready to teach minority or special education students or use technology in the classroom.
Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says universities could remedy that by using government funds to build better relationships with elementary and secondary schools.
More than $75 million in federal grants for fiscal 1999 would pay for more collaboration between education schools and departments in the arts and sciences, more clinical experience in public schools for prospective teachers and opportunities for training of graduates as they begin their first few years of teaching.
To be eligible for the money, colleges and universities must show that 80 percent of their prospective teachers have passed state licensing exams and provide reports on their teacher-education programs.
The concern over teacher quality is heightened by the nation’s need to hire 2.2 million more teachers during the next decade because of retirements and increasing enrollments, U.S. Sec. of Education Richard W. Riley told summit leaders.
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