What made the programs in the book stand out?
Today there are many more programs that educate teachers well—where you’re learning from a master teacher who’s an excellent example of what you’re trying to learn, where the coursework is wrapped around clinical experience in a productive way, where you’re learning to plan curriculum that meets the kids’ needs and the demands of the standards, where you’re learning how to create a classroom community and how to teach students with a wide range of needs.
Teachers who’ve gone through the programs we study in the book will tell you they felt very well prepared, and they end up moving very quickly into leadership roles and into careers that make a big difference in the profession.
What can we do to make teacher preparation programs more accessible?
For one thing, we need to underwrite the cost of teacher education. If you were to become a teacher in Finland, Singapore or a number of other high-achieving countries, your education would be completely free, and you would earn a salary or a stipend while you’re training to teach. Everybody gets access to a high-quality program, and everybody can afford to do it because they’re not trying to figure out how to go without a salary for a period of time and go into significant debt.
The student debt crisis in the Unites States is a particular crisis for people becoming teachers because these salaries are about 30 percent lower than those of other college graduates. This shapes the careers people choose, because many are afraid to go into debt and know that they won’t have the resources to pay that debt back. In this country, we need to pay for teachers’ education. That should be true for everyone in the field, but at minimum it should be true for people who go into shortage fields and high-need locations.
We also need to strengthen the accreditation and licensing process for teacher education programs, to make sure everybody knows about best practices and will be expected to incorporate them into their work. And we need to invest in innovation in teacher education, as we do in medicine, with grants from federal and state governments to learn and then share what we discover about best practices for preparing teachers.
We have all kinds of educational reforms underway in the United States—curriculum reforms, governance reforms and so on—but at the end of the day, if you don’t have a strong supply of well-prepared teachers, nothing else in education can work.