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Controversy Surrounds Teacher Preparation

Most people agree that good teachers help students succeed.
But how do good teachers learn to be effective?

One D.C.-based, private nonprofit is asking just that. They want colleges to participate in a study that ranks teacher preparation programs.

The results aren’t out yet. But many colleges, including those in New Hampshire, have voiced harsh criticism about the organization’s agenda.

Higher education experts in the state admit the controversy over teacher preparation is worth talking about.

About twenty-five seventh-graders shuffle into their English class at Parkside Middle School in Manchester. 

They plunk their backpacks to the floor, open zippers and slide out their textbooks. Fade under ambi,..

Alisha Hansen-Proulx is writing questions on the blackboard.

Like a skilled emcee, her eyes dart around the room to make sure the group is engaged.

Hansen-Proulx: Hopefully the teacher is not just lecturing at the front of the classroom. Hopefully the teacher is helping kids facilitate their own education, letting them show what they know and what they can do.

Hansen-Proulx says a yearlong teaching internship took the blinders off any pre-conceived notions she had about teaching.

Hansen-Proulx It’s an interesting concept to think about servicing 30 people or more and who all want some piece of you at the exact same minute. And you have to be able to multi-task in a way that no class prepares you for. You don’t understand the depth of that until you’re in the classroom.

Hansen-Proulx has been teaching now for eight years.

But close to half of all new teachers leave the trenches after the first five years.

Why the low retention rate?

Some policy activists say that many teachers aren’t truly prepared to manage a class of diverse learners. And they argue that colleges don’t have high enough admissions standards.

Walsh: Do you know it is actually easier to get into a school of education in almost any state then it is to qualify to play college athletics? I think that’s just wrong.

That’s Kate Walsh.

She’s the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a private, non-profit think tank that advocates for reforms in teaching policies.

The Council is rating programs at more than eleven hundred teaching colleges.

Once they compile their findings, they’ll publish them in the U.S. News & World Report

Walsh says the Council wants to raise the bar on what teachers need to know in core subjects like math, reading and science.

To judge a program’s caliber, the Council’s team of experts looks at syllabi, textbooks and other coursework materials.

Walsh says the Council will also scrutinize student internships— especially since in a previous study they conducted, most didn’t measure up:

Walsh: Very few of them actually ensure that our next generation of teachers is being trained in a classroom with a highly effective teacher. You would never expect to see doctors trained that way. You’d never say - it doesn’t matter who trained that doctor, any doctor would do. In the teaching profession, that’s certainly been the case.

Walsh says she expects to provide evidence that low-performing programs shouldn’t even be in operation.

To get its data, the National Council on Teacher Quality may hit some roadblocks.

For one thing, many institutions oppose the study.

Deans from about 40 education schools sent a letter to the Council criticizing its methodology and lack of transparency.  

Seven schools in the Granite State were asked to participate.  So far, only the University of New Hampshire is cooperating.

Tom Shcram directs the graduate education program at UNH.

He applauds the study’s goals, but says its research doesn’t probe deep enough:

Schram: To simply ask for a copy of a syllabus and a copy of the list of books we use is such a small part. They’re not looking at what’s happening with our graduates, our placement rates. We have five-year surveys of our graduates. That’s a lot of good information. They weren’t asking for things like that.

To use a sports analogy, Schram says you can’t predict how well a football team will perform in a game just by viewing its training schedule and equipment.

The National Council on Teacher Quality may not get a pat on the back for its research methods.

But it is cranking up to full volume the disputes on how to train teachers.

In New Hampshire, a statewide task force is currently reviewing not only how to teach the teachers, but also how to evaluate and pay them.

Again, UNH program director Tom Schram:

Schram: Because we are preparing the teachers who will be teaching in the state, there will be some nod towards this teacher evaluation model within our teacher ed programs.

This is why, for the first time, Schram and his cohorts from at least ten other colleges are meeting regularly to raise important issues, like:

Schram: What could a university do to support a school district’s efforts to mentor beginning teachers in a way that didn’t simply follow, but built upon what they’ve done as pre-service interns?

As Schram explains, an education major’s schooling begins at college. But it doesn’t need to end there.


Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ
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