While I’m sympathetic to many concerns raised by teacher educator Linda Darling-Hammond in her column addressing California’s teacher shortages (“Fix California’s shortage of qualified teachers, or Brown’s school reforms will fail,” Forum, May 23), her recommended solutions would reinforce, not reform, an inadequate system of teacher preparation that perpetuates shortages.
Darling-Hammond’s fundamental assertion that a well prepared teacher is better than one who is not is spot on. Unfortunately decades of research comparing the effectiveness of new teachers who have completed a formal program with teachers who have not finds little to no credible evidence of such teachers performing better in the classroom.
A solution that would have us double down on the current system will do little to encourage college students to consider a career in teaching.
To tackle declining enrollments in California's teacher prep programs (though enrollments are trending back up), aspiring teachers need to receive value from programs in return for their tuition dollars.
That means the state needs to exercise its authority to ensure that candidates get the preparation needed to qualify for a license to teach. Currently too many programs tolerate the majority of their candidates failing their professional exams, instead of changing the course requirements to align with state expectations.
It also means programs shifting their coursework to teaching only what is evidence-based, such as providing training in scientific methods for teaching children how to read and paying close attention to the quality of the student teaching experience, insisting that every mentor teacher is an effective teacher. Our research finds that only one in seven California programs do either.
As Darling-Hammond espouses, there’s much talk of having teacher candidates spend a year “in residency” as the best way to prepare new teachers. While that model is strong, it’s also expensive, costing upwards of $65,000 per teacher. It’s not financially feasible to prepare the thousands of new teachers California needs, and there’s no reason why traditional programs, well run, cannot emulate the best practices of residency models for a fraction of the price.
No one should endorse a system that drops unprepared teachers into classrooms, treating the first year as a fraternity hazing. A solution that would have us double down on the current system will do little to encourage college students to consider a career in teaching. We can and must do better.
Kate Walsh is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.