Teaching teachers: How colleges are doing

How well are teachers’ colleges teaching our teachers? Most first-year teachers were satisfied with their training, concludes Public Agenda’s Lessons Learned survey. Overall 8 in 10 felt they were prepared for their first classroom (42 percent said “very prepared).

However, only 39 percent said their training in dealing with diverse classrooms helped them “a lot” once they were in their own classroom.

New middle and high school teachers said their training put too much stress on theory and not enough on the practical demands of the classroom.

Teachers, especially at the high school level, were more critical of the support they got — or didn’t get — when they started teaching.

Just a quarter of new high school teachers (26 percent) said they get excellent advice on lesson plans and teaching techniques, compared to 39 percent of elementary school teachers who said the same.

There is also a 10-point difference on the advice they said they got about handling unmotivated students: 31 percent of high school teachers say they get excellent advice, compared to 41 percent of grade school teachers.

U.S. News and World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality plan to rate teachers colleges. The education schools aren’t pleased.

Parents value math, science skills

Americans say math and science skills are important, according to a new Public Agenda survey, Are We Beginning To See The Light? The public strongly favors a “national curriculum” in math and science, the survey found. However, most parents say the math and science their child is getting in school is “fine as it is.”

While only 3 in 10 Americans see a demand for science and math-focused jobs in the current economy, 84% agree that there will be a lot more jobs in the future that require math and science skills. And 9 in 10 Americans say studying advanced math and science is useful even for students who don’t pursue a STEM career.

Parents want their children to take advanced math and science courses in high school, but few think it’s essential for all students to learn physics or calculus.

There is a growing body of research suggesting Americans are falling behind in math and science education. U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science skills internationally, according to a recent OECD report, and the 2007 ACT College Readiness Report points out that only 43% of graduating seniors are ready for college math and 27% are ready for college science.

“Many parents don’t realize the importance of starting children in science early on,” says Jean Johnson of Education Insights. “Many think it can easily wait until high school.”

Bullying worries

Bullying and harassment are a serious problem in local schools, say 74 percent of respondents to a Public Agenda survey. However, illegal drugs and lack of respect for teachers raised even more concerns.

Parents were slightly less worried about bullying, drugs and respect.

Physical fighting and cheating in schools are lesser concerns for both the total public (59 percent and 55 percent, respectively) and parents (55 percent for fighting, 48 percent for cheating).

More than a third of Americans say they were bullied in school, but only 8 percent say they were bullied “a lot.”

Why college students drop out

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them from Public Agenda looks at why so many college students never earn a degree. It’s not that students are bored with their classes or reluctant to work hard, the study concludes.

Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time. At some point, the stress of work and study just becomes too difficult.

. . . Only about 1 in 10 students who have left college say a major reason they quit was that they didn’t like sitting in class or thought the classes were too difficult.

College dropouts may not realize what they’re losing by not completing a degree, the report says.

'Disheartened' teachers

Forty percent of K-12 teachers are “disheartened and disappointed” about their jobs, concludes Teaching for a Living, a Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates study. Another 37 percent are “contented” and 23 percent are “idealists” determined to help disadvantaged children.

Most of the disheartened teach in low-income schools. They’re frustrated with unsupportive administrators, disorder in the classroom and testing.  Contented teachers typically teach in middle-income or affluent areas where they say their schools are “orderly, safe, and respectful” and their administrators are satisfactory. Idealists are younger and often teach in elementary schools.

Nearly 9 in 10 Idealists believe that “good teachers can lead all students to learn, even those from poor families or who have uninvolved parents.” Idealists overwhelmingly say that helping underprivileged children improve their prospects motivated them to enter the profession . . . 36 percent say that although they intend to stay in education, they do plan to leave classroom teaching for other jobs in the field.

Although the researchers caution that the teachers’ idealism does not necessarily guarantee that they are more effective teachers than their colleagues, half of Idealists believe their students’ test scores have increased significantly as a result of their teaching, a higher percentage than other teachers in the survey.

Bad principals and bad working conditions will keep good teachers away from troubled schools, whatever the pay incentives they’re offered, experts tell Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuck.

“Within a few years, an idealistic teacher moving to one of these schools could become disheartened” if underlying problems with school culture aren’t addressed, said Tom Carroll, the president of the National Council on Teaching and America’s Future, or NCTAF, a Washington-based group that advocates changes in the structure of the teaching profession.

More than two-thirds of disheartened teachers plan to stay in the classroom.

Teachers are stressed when they feel they have no control over their jobs, writes Thomas Newkirk, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.