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HARRIS: Daniels has historic chance to transform teacher training

David Harris / Special to IBJ
September 1, 2012
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David HarrisQuestion: When Mitch Daniels becomes president of Purdue University in January, should he make changes to the college of education?

Answer: Gov. Daniels will have a momentous opportunity to make Purdue’s College of Education a national model for teacher preparation.

In this new era of high expectations for Indiana’s K-12 students, Purdue, like its peers, has the obligation to step up its game.

No in-school factor makes more of a difference for students than the quality of their teachers. Yet nationwide, schools of education have fallen short in preparing them.

“The nation’s teacher education programs,” wrote one commentator, “are inadequately preparing their graduates to meet the realities of today’s standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms.”

If you think this commentator is likely a rabid critic of the education establishment, think again. Those words were offered by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, after he completed an exhaustive national study of education schools.

“University-based programs,” Levine continued, “suffer from low admission and graduation standards. Their faculties, curriculums and research are disconnected from school practice. … There are wide variations in program quality, with the majority of teachers prepared in lower-quality programs.”

Fewer than two out of five teacher college alumni say their schools prepared them for the realities of today’s classrooms. And only a third of principals report that teachers come even “moderately well prepared” to maintain order in classrooms.

Levine found some universities were using teacher preparation as a “cash cow” for higher-priority academic programs by lowering or eliminating admissions standards to maximize enrollment. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that only 14 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools come from the top third of their college classes.

So, what could Daniels do to make Purdue’s College of Education a national leader? Here are four ideas:

1. Make education the most elite major on campus. Flip education schools’ non-selective reputation on its head. Make education school admissions 10-percent harder than what it takes to become pre-med. Tell districts who hire teachers that only the brightest Boilermakers come through the school’s rigorous program.

2. Focus on the Common Core. Indiana and most other states are entering an era in which students will be expected to meet internationally benchmarked standards. Purdue should benchmark its own curriculum against these standards.

3. Make practice count. Most aspiring educators do “student teaching” before graduating. But too often the teachers mentoring them aren’t themselves great teachers. As Indiana implements new teacher effectiveness measures, Purdue should insist that only the state’s best teachers be assigned to its candidates. The school also should make this real-world training a bigger part of each teacher’s preparation.

4. Hold the education school to the highest standards. Nationwide, there’s talk about rating education schools based on how well students do in their graduates’ classrooms. Louisiana already ranks its education schools this way. The Obama administration has proposed similar ideas. But why wait for Uncle Sam or the state to act?

Purdue could get out front, committing to rate itself based on how well its alumni teach. It could publish that information widely—and urge its peer institutions to follow suit.

No one is better equipped to make changes like this happen than Daniels. I’m hoping it’s a top priority.•

• Harris is CEO of The Mind Trust, a not-for-profit focused on K-12 education reform in Indianapolis. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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