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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Teacher colleges get low marks

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer


Among the findings in a study released yesterday by the nonpartisan Educating Schools Project:

  • Many students are graduating without the skills they need to be effective teachers. More than three out of five alumni surveyed said their school did not adequately prepare graduates to cope with the realities of today's classrooms.

  • There is no standard approach to preparing teachers. Programs vary from one to five years and are offered at the undergrad level, grad level or both. Limited field work leaves many unprepared for classroom realities.

  • While relatively few teachers are prepared at research institutions, the teachers prepared at these universities have students who score higher in assessment exams.

    The report is available on the Web at edschools.org.

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    American colleges of education are faring poorly in the overall job of preparing the nation's school teachers for today's "standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms," according to a new national study.

    Educating School Teachers, released yesterday by the nonpartisan Education Schools Project, charges that teachers are woefully unprepared to use technology in instruction, apply student performance assessment techniques, and implement performance standards.

    And while the study points to several exemplary programs, it concludes overall that teacher colleges are preparing teachers "moderately well" for the needs of students with disabilities, diverse cultural backgrounds or limited English skills.

    "Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world," said author Arthur Levine, who based his conclusions on national surveys of education school alumni, deans and faculty, principals, and visits to 28 education schools throughout the country out of a total of 1,206.

    The study did not pinpoint Hawai'i and visits were not made to the University of Hawai'i College of Education, according to its interim dean.

    Levine, a noted higher education scholar who recently left the presidency of Teachers College at Columbia University to become president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, spent four years on the study.

    Don Young, interim dean of UH's College of Education that produces most of Hawai'i's new teachers each year, called the report "broad-brush charges" not particularly applicable to Hawai'i where student teachers have been receiving standards-based education for the past five or six years, as well as extensive hands-on classroom experience.

    Young said that partly because the college is now preparing to head into its normal accrediting process, staff have collected a vast array of data on program effectiveness, including annual surveys of graduates and employers that show high satisfaction rates.

    "Our faculty are very knowledgeable about national standards and state standards in key subject areas math, reading and science but we don't believe preparing teachers only to that level is sufficient," he said. "We want our teachers to excel beyond those standards."

    The Levine report called for more practical experience for the nation's student teachers, noting required field work ranges from 30 to 300 hours at programs it evaluated. UH, by comparison, requires more than 1,200 hours of field work for a bachelor's of education degree and another 600 for both post-baccalaureate certificates. UH also offers specialized training for special education teachers and Hawaiian language immersion teaching, and requires a course in multicultural education, Young said.

    UH offers: a bachelor's degree in education, with two years of upper-level academic work that includes observing and teaching in the classroom; a fifth-year post-baccalaureate certificate; and several master's degree programs. UH is a doctorate-granting institution, which the report recommends as the best institution for training teachers. Thirty-four percent of the nation's teachers graduate from doctorate-granting universities.

    Karen Knudsen, a longtime member of the Board of Education, said a partnership between teacher training at the university and the state Department of Education has spurred "a dramatic improvement" in Hawai'i's teacher preparation over the past six years.

    "They're really making an attempt to answer the needs of the state," Knudsen said. "You look at the quality of the students coming out and the scholarships they've received and it really is impressive."

    But Knudsen credits the work of former UH College of Education dean Randy Hitz and public schools superintendents Pat Hamamoto and Paul LeMahieu for developing a close relationship that has helped align teacher training with classroom needs. In addition, the university has launched new courses that address challenges such as No Child Left Behind requirements, she said.

    "I'm hoping this relationship will continue. It's so vital. We're dependent on each other," Knudsen said.

    Among the Educating School Teachers study's recommendations:

  • Schools of education need to be refocused into professional schools based more fully on practice in the classroom.

  • Make five-year teacher education programs the norm.

  • Establish effective accreditation standards for quality control.

  • Create incentives for outstanding students and career-changers to enter teacher education at doctoral universities.

    The project was funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

    Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.