Grim lessons about teachers Conference: Teacher education leaders meet at a time when they are being severely criticized -- by themselves.


NEW YORK -- The venerable Teachers College of Columbia University called the nation's teacher education leaders to a conference here Friday and asked them to Solve the Problems of Education -- in one day!

It could not be done, of course, but the conference was of great value if one wanted a view over the landscape of teacher education in America. To wit:

The teachers of teachers are licking self-inflicted wounds from a scathing report issued last month by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a group dominated by teacher educators.

You name the deficiency and the commission, whose executive director is Teachers College Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, spotted it:

Unqualified teachers are routinely recruited and assigned. Teacher preparation is flawed. Recruitment is "woefully slipshod." New teachers "sink or swim; retention is low." Workloads are unrealistic. Good teachers aren't rewarded, and professional development is lacking.

The commission called for a complete overhaul, a $5 billion "upfront investment" and reallocation of $40 billion in existing spending. (That should be easy, since only 43 percent of public school dollars in the United States go to classroom teachers.)

The main problem is an old one: Teachers still have trouble being considered professionals, so they aren't educated, licensed, paid or generally treated like professionals.

"Teachers in public schools in this country are looked on as losers," said Joseph Rafter, one of 10 New York City teachers who took time from their classes to sit on a panel and remind the assembled experts what it's like in the trenches.

At the very heart of education, but not in the hearts of many of education's critics, teachers in the America of 1996 are rebellious. They despair of gaining public support. They criticize their own training. Many feel isolated and unappreciated. "People want to spend money on their own children's education, not on other people's children," said Rafter.

But nine of the 10 teachers on Friday's panel said they'd do it again if offered a choice between education and another profession. The one dissenter said he needed more money.

Perhaps it's human nature, but every education dean, every college president, every education professor, puts the blame elsewhere. Maryland, for example, scored 1 on a scale of 10 "total quality indicators" in the commission report, but Maryland officials said the assessment preceded teacher education reform last spring and didn't take into account other improvements.

The current fads in teacher education, both very much in evidence in Maryland, are "performance-based assessment" of teacher candidates and "professional development schools." The latter is so simple that it's incredible it wasn't on the scene decades ago. Train new teachers in the schools. Involve veteran teachers with newcomers; both will benefit. Bring the education professors to the student teachers, not the other way around.

There's a closely watched battle between the traditional teacher educationists, as represented by Darling-Hammond, and the "fast-track" proponents, represented by Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, which is sending liberal arts graduates into inner-city Baltimore and other urban and rural schools with a few weeks' post-college training. Both women spoke at the Teachers College conference, but a direct clash was avoided and no blood was shed.

The demand for inner-city teachers continues and will accelerate by the end of the decade. As long as education graduates of the state universities and other traditional programs opt for more comfortable jobs in the suburbs, it seems there will be a need for Teach for America and other alternative approaches.

71 groups indicate interest in running schools

The organizers of the Baltimore New Schools Initiative, which will allow nonprofit groups to operate public schools in the city, worried that when they asked for proposals, few would respond.

But with more than two weeks until the Nov. 15 deadline for final proposals, 71 community groups, teacher groups, colleges and other organizations have indicated an interest in operating a city pTC school, according to Laura Weeldreyer of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "The final number will probably be smaller, but this is very encouraging," Weeldreyer said.

College food rated on healthfulness

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently completed a different kind of ranking of America's top colleges and universities, judging them by the availability of healthful, low-fat and vegetarian foods in their dining halls.

Duke University heads the list. At each dinner in Durham, students can choose a hot, low-fat and cholesterol-free entree such as spicy lentils and vegetables.

Dining services bringing up the rear are (in descending order) the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, the Johns Hopkins University and Williams College.

Pub Date: 10/30/96

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