One article in a recent Education Week popped out of the page: “After Career Overhauling Ed. Schools, Levine to Step Down, Foundation head known for lambasting teacher training.” The article refers to Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, who will now remain at the foundation in a senior fellow role.
The strong title is well deserved. Levine came to the position with the intention of either fixing the existing model of teacher preparation or “reinvent[ing] it.” He has been recognized for “spearhead[ing] several initiatives designed to improve the preparation of educators.” In 2006 he stated teacher-prep programs were “unruly and disordered, they’re treated as a cash cow by universities.”
His views parallel those of Don Nielsen, program chair to the American Center for Transforming Education. Nielsen puts it this way in his book Every School: “Laws that mandated the hiring of only certified teachers resulted in giving schools of education monopoly control over the supply of human capital entering our public schools. Like any monopoly, over time the business of certifying teachers became bureaucratized, bloated, inefficient, and ineffective.”
Levine comments on the need to improve our teacher corps (which we’ve previously written about here): “If education schools don’t reform, there’s a serious risk that they will fade away or even be declared a failure.” Changing the way we select, train, and compensate our teachers is a big part of the system change necessary to improve how we educate our children. Teaching is one of the most significant professions but the current system deters our best and brightest from entering the profession, which in turn deprives our children.
The Wilson foundation’s program is designed so that students “undergo a full year of clinical practice in a high-needs urban or rural school, and after they graduate, they receive mentoring throughout their three-year teaching commitment.” The results are astonishing: “retention among the fellows is 2.5 times the rate of other teachers in high-needs schools in the states in which they are prepared.” Also noted in the current research is that students in the fellows’ classes are outperforming their peers.
With these kinds of results, the foundation’s approach to teacher preparation may be worth emulating. However, at ACTE we believe that the elimination of certification laws is also needed to place the most gifted teachers in every classroom, since certification laws tend to provide “cash cows” to the universities that hold a monopoly on teacher certification rather than actually improving teacher performance. As Nielsen summarizes, “we must remove, or radically modify, our state certification laws. I’m not suggesting that we eliminate schools of education, but we must induce them to prove their ability to train and graduate effective teachers. By eliminating their monopoly position, schools of education would have to do just that.” Perhaps some education schools would have to close. Others would have to reform. But the net effect would be of benefit to our children.