To improve schools, Obama administration focuses on training teachers

The Obama administration announced Friday that it is developing new rules aimed at improving schools by focusing on the training that teachers receive before they enter the classroom — an idea that met with a mix of cautious support and questions from Maryland's leading schools of education.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the new regulations for training programs — which could direct more federal money to high-performing colleges and universities — will be unveiled this summer and could be in place within a year.


Depending on how the regulations are crafted, the initiative could significantly expand President Barack Obama's education policy, which has relied on billions in federal stimulus dollars to spur changes in secondary schools.

Ensuring the quality of teacher training, Duncan stressed Friday, should be a central part of that effort.


"Unfortunately, too many teacher prep programs get little or no information about how their graduates are actually doing once they enter the teaching profession," he told reporters. "That is simply unacceptable and must change."

Duncan has raised concerns about teacher training programs before, and the Education Department took a stab at regulating them in 2012. Duncan has said universities often treat their schools of education as cash cows because they attract high enrollment and are comparatively cheap to operate.

He has said most of the programs "are doing a mediocre job" of preparing teachers for the classroom.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said she supports the initiative. In a highly critical ranking of teacher education schools last year, the Washington nonprofit said most were not adequately preparing teachers.

"We have an industry of mediocrity," Walsh said. "People have known for years that teacher prep has not worked well."

Officials at the region's top teaching schools welcomed the renewed federal focus on the issue, but they said little is known about how the administration will approach the issue. Duncan said the department would unveil draft rules this summer, kicking off a months-long review process.

David Andrews, dean of the School of Education at the Johns Hopkins University, said he believes the administration's plan to hold teaching colleges accountable for the effectiveness of its graduates is "on the right track."

Andrews said he also supports the idea of tying financial aid to the best teaching schools.


"The devil will be in the details, but I think the more reputable schools are going to respond to it," he said.

He said the School of Education — whose graduate program was recently ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report — has already sought to increase practice time for its teachers-in-training, and is increasing the use of technology to give more meaningful feedback.

But Andrews said the federal government should also be mindful of challenges in the profession, including a shortage of teachers that has forced some schools to recruit from substandard training programs.

The U.S. will need another 1.6 million new teachers to take the place of those retiring over the next decade, the Education Department has said.

Patricia Welch, dean of the School of Education and Urban Studies at Morgan State University, said she welcomed discussion about strengthening teacher preparation programs, but she hopes it doesn't continue to perpetuate what she described as a blame game about poor student achievement.

She said that Morgan prepares teachers to teach in urban school systems, which can be complex and unpredictable in ways that aren't always reflected in data points.


"We have the responsibility of not just having teachers know the 'what' but the 'how' in being effective, with all of the challenges that we know exist," Welch said.

"We think that our program here is purposeful and intentional in making sure that our students don't go through the program learning about education, but learning about how schools work," she said.

When the federal government dangles money before schools, she said, it can sometimes muddy the underlying goal.

Donna L. Wiseman, dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland, said the most important question might be how the federal government intends to measure the quality of new teachers.

Despite frequent criticism of teacher preparation programs, she said, most schools of education believe there should be accountability.

"I know the teachers we turn out are good. I am not worried," Wiseman said. "We want all kids to have good teachers. We are struggling to do that."


Raymond Lorion, dean of the College of Education at Towson University, hopes that more money will flow into clinical training for teachers — particularly those who will go into challenging schools where they are likely to feel unsupported.

He said he would like to see renewed efforts to provide scholarships for college students who commit to teach after graduation.

Towson University, he said, is developing programs with Baltimore County schools that he believes will provide more meaningful training over a greater number of years.

Lorion, like Wiseman, sees a need for change in how teachers are trained. He says two out of five teachers leave the profession in the first four years.

"That," he said, "is an incredibly inefficient way to train professionals."

Reuters and Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.