Student teaching done wrong — and right

Student teachers don’t work with excellent classroom instructors in many cases, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, which analyzed and rated 134 colleges and universities. Almost 75 percent of education programs don’t require the student teacher’s mentor to be an effective classroom instructor.

Programs are “begging” for student-teacher placements and can’t afford to be choosy, the report finds. In part, that’s because programs admit too many students, says NCTQ President Kate Walsh.

 “Right now, far too many institutions accept anyone and everyone, including many who have no intention of ever teaching.  Some students enter the program because it has the reputation for being the easiest program on campus to complete, while others discover that teaching is not for them, yet they have to student teach in order to graduate.  The teaching profession needs much higher standards.”

Schools of education, often considered “cash cows” for their universities, turn out more than twice as many graduates as schools hire, NCTQ estimates. The surplus is greatest for would-be elementary teachers. The report suggests requiring a fallback major so students who leave the teaching track can graduate on schedule.

In addition, working with a student teacher should be a more attractive proposition for exemplary classroom teachers, the report suggests, calling for “monetary incentives, prestige for being selected and assurance that the student teacher is qualified for the experience.”

NCTQ did find 10 model programs: Key Ingredients for Strong Student Teaching offers suggestions.

NCTQ’s analysis is controversial, writes Inside Higher Ed.  Most schools of education aren’t happy about the methodology NCTQ developed for U.S. News & World Report‘s upcoming teacher-education program rankings.

The teachers we want

In Getting the teachers we want in Education Next, Rick Hess laments the U.S. tendency to hire ever more teachers, dipping deeper into the talent pool, rather than paying more to the best candidates.

If policymakers had maintained the same overall teacher-to-student ratio since the 1970s, we would need 1 million fewer teachers, training could be focused on a smaller and more able population, and average teacher pay would be close to $75,000 per year.

It’s time to rethink teaching, Hess writes. We can’t hire 200,000 smart 22-year-olds every year and expect them to teach for 30 or 40 years.

There are smarter, better ways to approach the challenge at hand: expand the hiring pool beyond recent college graduates; staff schools in ways that squeeze more value out of talented teachers; and use technology to make it easier for teachers to be highly effective.

Schools fail to take advantage of teachers’ talents, he writes. The fourth-grade teacher who’s great at teaching reading should spend her time teaching reading; a math specialist should focus on math.  An aide might handle administrative tasks. Only 68 percent of classroom time is spent on instruction, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The challenge, in short, is to find ways to “squeeze more juice from the orange” by using support staff, instructional specialization, and technology to ensure that effective educators are devoting more of their time to educating students.

Specialization has worked in other professions, Hess argues. Surgeons don’t spend time negotiating with insurance companies; “not even junior attorneys are expected to file their own paperwork, compile their billing reports, or type letters to clients.”

Technology can reduce teachers’ administrative load and bring tutors and teachers to students in places where it’s hard to attract talent.

All this will require a new way of paying teachers, Hess writes.

Don’t expect to hire superstar teachers, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

. . . every time we find ourselves slipping into a “best and brightest” reverie, we should pinch ourselves. It’s folly to suppose that any occupation numbering more than four million people–and consuming one tenth of the educated workforce–is going to be staffed predominantly by superstars. Nor is it going to command superstar pay.

With “mere mortals” dominating the teaching force, “that calls for greater attention to structured curricula (including the scripted kind), to technology, to proven school designs, and to organizing the K-12 delivery system in ways that get the greatest possible bang from its relative handful of superstars.”

Recruitment incentives attract smart people to tough schools, according to a new paper on California’s $20,000 Governor’s Teaching Fellowship. The goal was to “get academically talented grads to teach in the state’s neediest schools and keep them there for four years,”  reports NCTQ’s bulletin. Quitters had to repay the state $5,000 for each unfulfilled year.

Training teachers on the job

In Education Next, Katherine Newman looks at innovative models of teacher training that feature “rigorous selection processes, practical coursework and tremendous field-based support.”

(Boston Teacher Residency) is implementing a model that emphasizes training teachers on-site in actual classrooms with students and lead teachers, similar to the way medical residents grow into effective doctors by working directly with patients under the guidance of veterans. Instead of following a typical list of course and credit-hour requirements, the organization sponsoring the internship or residency-style program tailors coursework to meet the needs of the particular school or type of school in which the teacher will be employed.

Newman also looks at San Diego–based High Tech High (HTH), which trains and certifies its own teachers, and Alliance for Catholic Education’s Teacher Formation program, “the Teach For America of parochial schools.”

Traditional teacher-training programs teach “few skills applicable to real classrooms” writes Newman. But many alternative certification programs, which now prepare one fifth of new teachers, aren’t any better.

Of the alternative certification programs the NCTQ (National Council on Teacher Quality) surveyed for a 2007 report, only one-third require a summer teaching practicum and one-quarter provide weekly mentoring for teachers once the school year starts.

One-quarter take nearly all applicants, says NCTQ.

Keep the good, new teachers

States do a lousy job of identifying and retaining effective new teachers, says NCTQ.

States do not require sufficient support and evaluation of new teachers. They do not require (and in some cases actually forbid) teachers’ effectiveness to be considered when granting tenure, and are lagging in the development of the systems necessary for identifying effective teachers. States cling to anachronistic compensation schemes and place a disproportionate emphasis on providing pension benefits to retiring teachers at the expense of providing benefits that would appeal to younger teachers. Further, states allow far too many ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom and gain tenure, including teachers who repeatedly fail to meet the state’s own licensing standards.

Laying off by seniority is bad policy, reports Marguerite Roza at the Center on Reinventing Public Education. To cut the budget by 10 percent, a district would have to lay off 14.3 percent of low-paid junior employees.

On the other hand, if that district followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy — say by a standard of employee effectiveness — only 10 percent of the workforce would lose their jobs.

School districts may be forced to lay off young math and science teachers to keep top-scale teachers in low-demand specialties on the payroll.