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Obama administration to grade teacher training

JAZELLE HUNT | 5/19/2014, 10:25 a.m.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Teachers have always graded students. The Obama administration feels the time has come for someone to grade teachers.

Teacher training programs – from colleges and universities, to for-profit certification courses and non-profit preparatory programs – have few, if any, external evaluation systems to check for and improve quality. In fact, only five states (Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida) gather data on quality among their in-state programs.

“We have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other,” said Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan when announcing the new federal initiative.

The Department of Education plans to build upon existing strategies and guide every state to develop its own evaluation systems. The plan also intends to create a “feedback loop” by making the information gathered available to aspiring teachers, schools and districts, and the public.

Teachers beginning their careers feel especially ill-equipped.

Darryl Green worked as a salesman before becoming a teacher in Baltimore County 16 years ago – and he is glad that he did.

“I was not prepared at all,” he recounted. “My content analysis was fine, but … entering the classroom setting is totally different than portrayed in the books. It was my first career that really helped me with my second. With sales you have to educate a person, then you can sell them on something. With teaching it’s the other way around.”

Green was not alone.

Newly released data from the Department of Education show 62 percent of new teachers don’t feel prepared when they enter the field. Yet, 96 percent of teaching candidates pass their licensing exams.

And the students who suffer from teachers without proper training are the students who need the very best instructors.

“From my observation, it seems new teachers are placed in low-performing schools. Even if the school is not underperforming, new teachers are given classes with the most challenges,” said Adrian Layne, a veteran teacher in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public School system. “Some teachers are not ready for the schools in which they are placed.”

Some, such as the non-profit training program Teach for America, welcome the federal intervention.

“We are very pleased that the administration is taking action to help us identify and learn from top-performing teacher-preparation programs,” co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard said. “We stand with our colleagues across the education community in our commitment to ensure that all teacher preparation programs are supported in producing capable teachers for our nation’s children.”

Green also welcomes the program – but for different reasons.

“We most definitely need these standards. I’m seeing too many new teachers coming in at different levels, depending on what school they come from,” said Green, who was his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2012 and is preparing to earn a Master of Arts in teaching. “If the teachers don’t know what to expect, how can the students know what to expect?”