Training a Better Teacher

America’s teachers colleges are failing at effectively training a complete cadre of successful educators.  That is news coming from a new study from the Education Schools Project, a effort headed by Art Levine.  You can see a good write-up of the study in Education Week this week  — http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/05/09/36levine.h26.html.

These are important conclusions, indeed.  But are they news?  For more than a decade, education researchers and education reformers alike have raised serious concerns about the quality and effectiveness of teacher training.  That’s one of the reasons NCLB’s architects including HQT provisions in the law.  And that’s why so many are clamoring for a “Flexner-style” study of our nation’s teachers colleges.  (Kudos to Nancy Grasmick for actually attempting to do it in Maryland).

In fact, it is the same message that Reid Lyon has preached for more than a decade now.  You can see in in the congressional record with testimony Lyon presented as early as 1997, well before NCLB was even a flicker in the eye of the greatest minds in Texas education.

So why the attention now?  The answer is simple.  Concerns about teacher preparation (as delivered in this study) are getting the attention they justly deserve because of the messenger.  We’ve talked about this before.  Successful communication requires a good message, an understanding of the audiences you are talking to, AND a credible messenger.

Art Levine is such a messenger.  As a former teacher educator at Columbia, he is a member of the club.  He understands the challenges and obstacles that face many a teachers college.  He has credibility with the establishment.  But while at Teachers College, he was also a reformer.  He wasn’t afraid to throw rocks at that same establishment, pushing his colleagues to do it differently and do it better.  As a result, he possesses the respect and gravitas that allows him to call on his former colleagues to change their ways.

When Lyon has said the same things, he is attacked for seeking to destroy our system of higher education and accused of showing no respect for teachers and teacher educators alike.  Unfair?  Unjust? Inaccurate?  Absolutely.  But if the audiences you are seeking to reach believe it, it sometimes doesn’t matter what the truth is.  The legend, whispers, and sense of political correctness take center stage and become the new reality.

Regardless of the personalities, what remains solely important is the message here.  We need more qualified, effective teachers in the classrooms.  And with so many veteran teachers preparing for retirement in the coming years, that need is growing more acute daily.  If the Education Schools Project study can get teachers colleges to strengthen their preservice training and build a better cadre of classroom teachers, then the message has been delivered effectively. 

And if that happens, there will be many, including both Levine and Lyon, who deserve the credit. 

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