The key to better students is better teachers

Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan meet as they view a fourth grade class at Delaplaine McDaniel Elementary School in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By 2014, the country’s 95,000 public schools will need to hire as many as a million teachers and principals. More than half will be trained at education colleges. But will they be prepared for the classroom? Probably not, shortchanging another generation of the quality education they deserve.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has sounded the alarm that more must be done to prepare future teachers, especially those sent to failing urban school systems such as Philadelphia and Camden’s.
Duncan is citing a 2006 report by former Columbia Teachers College President Arthur Levine that found that 61 percent of educators believe they were inadequately prepared for the classroom.
Duncan, who brought his message to Philadelphia in September, may have ruffled some feathers when he concluded that most of the nation’s 1,450 teachers colleges are doing a mediocre job at best of preparing future teachers.
But that frank assessment confirms what lackluster student performance on standardized tests has shown for years. Reforming public education and boosting student achievement must begin with better teacher training — mediocrity is unacceptable.
Nearly 30 percent of students nationwide, roughly 1.2 million, drop out or don’t complete high school in four years.
The statistics are even worse for minority students. Only about 60 percent of black and Latino students graduate on time in many urban districts, while more than half drop out.
Such a bleak cycle of failure demands a new approach that includes placing student teachers in urban schools so they get get a firsthand experience in the social and cultural challenges that come with teaching in the inner city.
America’s teachers colleges need to revamp their curriculums to be more relevant to today’s classroom situations. Universities with second-rate colleges of education must invest more resources to turn them around.
Future teachers must be as adept at managing a classroom as they are preparing a lesson plan.
Although Duncan failed to provide specifics on how the federal government will help improve teacher preparation and accountability, his message must resonate with every teachers college and university.
To put itself on the right track, Rowan University plans to send about 300 sophomore student teachers to Camden schools this year for semester-long field work.
Next year, the university plans to launch a teacher-residency program that will include a year-long student teaching assignment, instead of the typical semester.
That’s the right approach. Students in troubled schools typically have the least qualified teachers. Students won’t do better without better teachers.