Teaching the Teachers

Teachers in public schools need all the help they can get. But schools that teach the teachers need even more help.

As Congress moves closer to striking a deal on an education bill, it shouldn't ignore the plight of some 1,300 teacher-training schools that are treated as a backwater in higher education, and often lack the generous endowments of other school departments.

Amazingly, only about 1 in 3 students who enroll in teacher-education programs sticks it out. And of those who do graduate, their preparation is so inadequate that another third leave the profession within five years. (In urban schools, the drop-out rate is an estimated 50 percent.)

In other words, the nation produces more than enough teachers, but their training, combined with their working conditions, is not adequate to keep them in public classrooms.

Both the House and Senate bills would help streamline the various federal teacher-training programs. That, and reform of the often-marginalized teacher training schools at colleges and universities, would go a long way toward solving many of the public education woes in this country.

Too many teachers, for instance, specialize in education but lack adequate training in the topic they are supposed to teach. Too many students are learning math, science, and history from teachers who didn't even minor in those areas.

In addition, many would-be teachers are not shown the latest in educational technology or given enough real-life classroom experience.

One champion of better teacher training is Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation and former president of Brown University. He has helped Carnegie bring forth ideas on how to recruit, prepare, and support teachers. One idea is to require teachers to obtain a bachelor's degree in the arts and sciences before studying education. Another is that universities should encourage more PhDs to teach in public schools.

University leaders need to engage in the national debate over public education by shaping up their schools for teachers, and by providing as much incentive for professors who do quality teaching of teachers as for those who do quality research.

Well-educated and well-motivated teachers are the key to school reform. And the key to achieving that is to lift up the nation's teacher education schools.

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