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The Problem with Teacher Preparation Is Not Admissions

Tingley-021 color-1In yet another politically simplistic solution to a complex problem, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad proposed in October that applicants to teacher preparation programs should have at least a 3.0 average.  Under this guideline, one in five prospective teachers currently enrolled in one of Iowa’s 32 teacher prep programs would have been denied admission.

Well, here’s one problem with that idea (besides turning away hundreds of aspiring teachers):  a B average in first year of college doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be a great teacher.  And a C average doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be a poor teacher.  The first few semesters of college aren’t exactly the best predictor of success in life in any venue.  Anyone who’s been to a 20-year high school reunion knows that and so does anyone who has reunited with former classmates on Facebook

More than one politician cherishes the belief that high school must prepare every graduate for the next level of accomplishment.  However, in my experience, some kids who leave school at 18 are still developing into the people they will eventually become.  Those who enter the military, for example, frequently come back entirely grown up after two years of service.  I was often deeply moved (along with my staff) when these young adults came back to visit us at school to show us they weren’t the delinquents some had predicted.  Likewise, high school graduates who attend the local community college have a little time to grow up too. 

Says Iowa Department of Education director Jason Glass, however, “This [teaching] is the most important profession in our society.  We should hold a very high standard.”

High-jump_1024x768_34829Well, sure. But I would submit that the real problem with teacher preparation programs isn’t the standard for admission, but the standard for the work. If the teacher prep program were rigorous enough and focused on demonstrable skills with actual kids in actual classrooms, those who were unsuited, unwilling, or unprepared to do the work would drop out or fail out.  Teacher preparation programs that require students to work assiduously to learn the information, practice the art, and exhibit the skill will turn out stronger graduates.  My experience working with the graduates of some of today’s teacher preparation programs is that “rigorous” is not a word that would describe their studies.

Critics of the Iowa proposal say that it would disproportionately turn away Latino and black aspiring teachers, to me another seriously negative side effect.  College educators are pushing for more flexibility in the guidelines.  Still, if the preparation program itself isn’t outstanding, it doesn’t matter if only students with a 4.0 are admitted.  The problem with teacher education programs isn’t who’s admitted; it’s the programs themselves.


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