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Obama's review plans to rate and improve teacher education preparation programs

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Obama administration's plans to improve teacher preparation programs by creating an alumi job performance feedback and rating system in each state, April 25, 2014
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Obama administration's plans to improve teacher preparation programs by creating an alumi job performance feedback and rating system in each state, April 25, 2014Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Obama administration is planning on changing and improving university education programs to make graduates more prepared to enter the realities of teaching. President Barack Obama in collaboration with the Department of Education is working to improve teacher education and preparation programs, particularly field work experience. President Obama issued an executive action on Friday, April 25, 2014 ordering the Department of Education to create a plan to revised teacher preparation programs by the summer, creating a standard work, alumni, university feedback system, which he hopes to be implemented within a year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the initiative to press through a conference call the same day as the president's executive action, where he "previewed" it for the press.

According to the findings in a White House Fact sheet entitled; "Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation" two-thirds of new minted teachers are not prepared for the rigors and realties of teaching. Something is going wrong with teacher preparation programs to leave new teachers that unprepared after graduating to actually work in their profession." The administration identified the problem as lack of feedback from education graduates and the schools employing them; "institutions…lacked the feedback needed to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and had little information on where program graduates go to teach, how long they stay, and how they perform in the classroom." Continuing the White House also explained that "Existing federal regulations on teacher preparation focus on information that is not sufficiently meaningful to preparation programs, potential teachers or potential employers."

Secretary of Education Duncan discussed the president's initiative to the press, stating the problem; "Poor programs, what they do is produce teachers who are underprepared, are ineffective, and who are frustrated… Today, unfortunately too many teacher prep programs get little or no information about how their grads are doing once they enter the profession. That is unacceptable and must change." U.S. education programs' preparations and standards are trailing behind other countries that make education and teachers more of a priority. Duncan pointed out; "The level of respect teachers get in other countries is often different than the respect they get in the United States. We need to elevate the teaching profession here."

Education programs do not have a nationalized standards or exams, each states has their "own licensing requirements." In some state licensing requirements are not even controlled by the states, but by "nonprofit groups or school districts." Also the curriculum is not standardized with any consistency either, programs vary by university. The lack of core standards is leading to some sub-standard programs. Duncan stated; "Programs that are producing teachers where students are less successful, they either need to change or do something else, go out of business."

The problem is not the courses in education programs, but that they lack enough practical experience and therefore their graduates are unprepared for the challenges they face in the classroom. It discourages 50 percent of graduates from continuing teaching after three years, and leaves the students the graduates teach with a lackluster education. Duncan explained; "At virtually every school I go to, I ask teachers, were they prepared when they entered that school or entered the profession. There is often a fair amount of nervous laughter … and sadly, it's often a majority of teachers that say they weren't prepared."

The administration is looking to the states to help monitor which teacher education programs are successful, and which are lagging behind, and those who do not prepare their graduates for real world teaching. According to the White House fact sheet; "The Administration will encourage and support states in developing systems that recognize excellence and provide all programs with information to help them improve, while holding them accountable for how well they prepare teachers to succeed in today's classrooms and throughout their careers."

The initiative is important because when teachers are unprepared the students are not benefitting from the best education they can or be receiving. The White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz expressed; "We know that when teachers enter the classrooms, students flourish. When they enter the classrooms underprepared, they struggle and their students struggle." Muñoz concluded that "At the heart of the agenda has been placing a great teacher in every classroom. Teachers matter and a great teacher makes all the difference."

The Obama administration is looking at a tripartite change in teacher preparation; first, that the states create a "system to identify" all types of "high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs," not just university programs. Second, have the states modify their current program reporting systems by "streamlin[ing] the current data requirements" and "incorporate[ing] more meaningful outcomes, additionally they want all they data more widely available to universities, employers and students. Lastly the administration wants the states to create a ratings system for teaching preparation programs.

The administration does not project that this initiative will cost much or contribute to the deficit. Duncan stated; "We don't see this as being a high cost item at all." The most important part of this initiative is determining the current best practices and best teaching programs and identifying, which ones are failing their graduates, ill preparing them for what they will expect in the classroom. Better prepared teachers benefits America's youth. The administration is also considering tying teacher education program success and the states compliance to the initiative with eligibility for TEACH grants to teach in low income areas.

The administration found inspiration from some current initiatives that are improving teacher preparation and program feedback. Among those receiving praise from the White House include the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is working to revamp university programs with higher standards and a system to monitor graduates employment success. While five states Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, have already created the feedback system from workplace the administration hopes to replicate across the country.

There are already some public and private university programs implementing better standards, adding more internships and work experience elements. The work experience component at Arizona State University and Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU) mirrors the realities teaching graduates face upon enter the workforce, with a high success rate of 85 percent of their graduate still teaching after three years. The UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin is increasing the number of teachers training to teach STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and math, which are greatly needed. Relay Graduate School of Education, both tracks graduates' work success, and "requires that teachers meet high goals for student learning growth." While the Fayetteville State University's masters degree program maintains high standards in accordance to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction competencies and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

President Obama ordered the review after the long time urging of the secretary of education. Secretary Duncan has been expressing since 2009 that President Obama should address the subpar teaching preparation programs criticizing according to the Chronicle of Higher Education that they are doing a "'mediocre job' of preparing teachers for 'the realities of the 21st-century classroom' and need 'revolutionary change-not evolutionary tinkering.'" At the end of March the Senate's education committee held hearings where the experts concluded "reform" and "common set of concise but meaningful measures," were needed for teacher preparations programs.

President Obama's education policy is a component of his economic opportunity program, which is compromised of four parts; creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage. Secretary Duncan concluded his remarks to the press declaring the initiative; "will get us closer to President Obama's profound goal of having a great teacher in every single classroom around the nation." President Obama promised in his State of Union Address to make 2014 a year of economic action, where he will use his executive power to push through legislation when Congress refuses to act, and pass important legislation. So far the president has signed over 20 executive orders and memorandums relating to the four areas of his economic opportunity program.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are academic & universities news, particularly history & library news.