DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In the United States, we spend $7 billion every year training teachers. Well, now a new study says many of the nation's colleges of education, places that spend that money, are failing. Teachers are not adequately prepared for the classroom, this study says. It was released by U.S. News & World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has a look at the findings.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality is on a mission to expose what she calls widespread malpractice in the field of teacher education.
KATE WALSH: Right now, much of higher ed. believes that it's not their job to have a teacher be ready for the classroom on day one.
SANCHEZ: Her organization's study of more than 1,100 colleges of education found that seven out of 10 programs did not adequately teach candidates how to teach reading. Nine out of 10 did a poor job preparing them to teach basic subjects like English, math, science or history. Training in classroom management and the use of student data was lacking. The damage to K through 12 education, says Walsh, is enormous.
WALSH: School districts are spending billions of dollars to make up for what teacher training programs are not doing.
SANCHEZ: According to the study, some colleges of education are so bad, the study attached a consumer alert to their names with this warning: No prospective teacher should entrust their preparation to this institution because it doesn't provide even the minimal training to its candidates. On that list of the nation's 163 so-called worst teacher training programs is East Tennessee State University. Dr. Hal Knight is dean of the school of education there.
DR. HAL KNIGHT: May I look at the list?
SANCHEZ: Sure. I think they're in alphabetical.
KNIGHT: Actually, I don't know. I mean, I'm floored. I'm actually floored.
SANCHEZ: After all, says Knight, nobody has ever complained about their graduates.
KNIGHT: Our employer surveys are saying that we're doing a good job. Our teachers are finding jobs, and the one measure of outcomes that we have had, which is the Tennessee report card, we've done pretty well.
SANCHEZ: That report card, says Knight, shows that East Tennessee State is producing teachers who are raising student achievement, which is why Leslie Pool and Brian Beeh, both candidates to become reading teachers, say their program can't possibly be among the worst in the nation.
LESLIE POOL: I feel prepared and I feel comfortable walking into a classroom and being able to teach children.
BRIAN BEEH: Yeah, I am kind of shocked, you know, that we were listed at the bottom, 'cause I feel I'm getting a good education.
SANCHEZ: The National Council on Teacher Quality zeroed in on two major areas: how education schools prepared students for the classroom and whether that preparation had anything to do with the growing demand on teachers to show they're actually raising students' performance. Kate Walsh says consumers - namely school districts and people going into teaching - need to know.
WALSH: If consumers know who's doing a great job, they're going to gravitate towards those programs; they're going to stay away from those that are weak. Those weak ones will have a choice: they either work to get a lot better or they go out of business for lack of clientele. So, that's our primary goal, is to just give the consumers a much better idea of where to go.
ARTHUR LEVINE: The goal is wonderful. However, before we close down failing programs, we ought to have really strong data about which schools are failing and which schools aren't.
SANCHEZ: But this study does not offer strong data, says Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University. Levine has spent most of his career trying to reform schools of education. He gives the study an incomplete for relying too heavily on course descriptions rather than actually observing how faculty prepare students for the real world. The bottom line, is this, says Levine.
LEVINE: The measure of the success of any teacher education program is how well the graduates are doing with the children in their classes. That's really the only thing that matters - not the process by which we prepared those teachers.
SANCHEZ: Still, the study, with all its limitations, will have an impact, says Levine. The question is, how will institutions respond?
WALSH: Actually, we don't expect them to respond at all.
SANCHEZ: Again, Kate Walsh.
WALSH: I can point to a hell(ph) graveyard of failed efforts to try to get teacher education to change. What's different about what we're doing is that if they don't change, they're going to feel it in the pocketbook.
SANCHEZ: The concern, says Arthur Levine, is that this could backfire and further polarize the debate over the future of teacher education - whether it can be repaired or whether it's so broken it needs to be replaced. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.