By Freeda Pirillis
In December of 2010, six VIVA Teachers excitedly walked into the U.S. Department of Education for the first time. Report in hand, each was prepared to discuss a list of recommendations for improving the nation’s educational landscape and, ultimately, how both pre-service and novice teachers could be best supported in today’s classrooms. I remember nervously walking into a boardroom, sitting near the head of the table, and watching Secretary Arne Duncan approach. In the VIVA report, Voices from the Classroom, I had written most heavily on teacher preparation and how university coursework in the U.S. was not adequately, nor uniformly, preparing teachers to meet the challenges of students with special needs, those who were homeless, or children with English as a second language. Three years ago, Secretary Duncan listened to our recommendations, read our report, and discussed how these issues were being addressed in the world. It was unclear to us what might come of our work, but we walked out of the room inspired by the meeting.
Fast forward three years and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) releases a report confirming what we as VIVA Teachers felt, along with hundreds of teachers I’ve spoken to in my last 13 years of teaching: Our nation’s teacher preparation programs are NOT adequately preparing pre-service teachers. The review rated altogether 1,130 institutions in the United States that prepare 99 percent of traditionally trained new teachers. Not only does the review show that it is far too easy to gain admittance into a teacher preparation program, but that only 7 percent of the institutions provide their pre-service teachers with strong experiences in a classroom led by an effective teacher. Additionally, only 10 percent of U.S. teacher preparation programs received three stars or more – a total of four schools).
NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review illuminates the issue our nation continues to have with elevating standards for students, with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, while placing teachers at the forefront of accountability for meeting those standards. And yet, our university teacher preparation programs continue to churn out mediocre teachers who struggle to manage classrooms, who have to actively seek out their own professional development to improve their classroom practice, or flee the profession due to teacher burn out. NCTQ’s review sought to create transparency in our nation’s efforts to create a teaching task force that truly prepares students for the global community they will work in, yet it was met with “enormous resistance” from the leaders of university programs. What is there to hide? One only needs to speak with a classroom teacher to assess the quality of a teacher preparation program in any state in the U.S.
The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system should take a closer look at this report as it continues to lay off experienced teachers by the thousands. The NCTQ review reported the average number of years experience for teachers is one year, and their students lose “far too much ground” compared to those who are taught by experienced teachers. In light of its laying off of another 3,000 teachers several weeks ago, CPS is recruiting inexperienced teachers through the Teach for America program, which places teachers in urban, under-served communities after just five weeks of teacher training. This recent move in Chicago clearly depicts what the NCTQ review found: accountability of teacher preparation needs to be met by both university programming and school systems that reinforce the firing of veteran teachers for those new teachers who are cheaper to fund.