classroom 2According to Arthur Levine of Columbia Teachers College, there are 1,300 schools of education and no more than half are accredited.  When the academic success of our students depends on the quality of their teachers, we must examine this startling statistic. In fact, when it comes to improving student achievement, there’s no substitute for an effective teacher — not class size, technology, higher standards or better tests. Education Secretary Arne Duncan argues that unless the United States improves teacher training and raises teacher quality, little will change in the classroom.  Duncan has been leading the charge with a series of speeches calling for education schools to reinvent themselves.  Duncan told an audience at Columbia University that “by almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.”

It is impossible in many states to identify which teachers produce the best student outcomes, let alone which teacher colleges.  David Steiner, New York’s education commissioner, raises the question, “what good are teachers’ credentials if we can’t tell how much their students are learning?”  We simply must create models where student test scores can be traced back to their teachers and ultimately to the teachers’ place of learning.

The University of Michigan is redesigning its school of education to make earning a teaching degree more like earning a law or medical degree.  According to Professor Robert Bain, when the effort is finished, the education program will no longer be a series of courses students have to take but rather a program that’s building on experiences.

Harvard has introduced a new doctoral degree in education leadership.   In collaboration with faculty members from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard will offer students a tuition- free 3 year program to develop the skills to transform public education in our country.  The overall goal, said Dean McCartney, is “to produce a cadre of highly skilled educational leaders who are committed to reform of the profession, knowledgeable about the way children learn and well-grounded in the real world of practical management and politics”.

Even in our own backyard, UMKC has developed a program specifically designed to train teachers for urban school settings.  The entire curriculum has been revamped to bring more diversity and cultural backgrounds into the learning process.  Read more from the Kansas City Star here UMKCUrbanFocus[1] .

It will be years before graduates of these programs have an impact on our children.  In the meantime, we must continue to ask how qualified our teachers are.  Do they have a proven track record of advancing their students’ academic progress?  Is there a highly qualified, certified and motivated teacher in your child’s classroom?   More than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter!

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