If you're thinking about going into teaching, take heed of this message from Katherine Merseth, a senior lecturer and director of the teacher education program at Harvard University: "The dirty little secret about schools of education is that they have been the cash cows of universities for many, many years, and it's time to say, 'Show us what you can do, or get out of the business.'"
Merseth, who spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., this week as part of a panel about how to improve teacher quality, was not trashing her employer, to be sure. Nor was she discouraging aspiring teachers from going to graduate school. Merseth was taking aim at institutions that produce ill-prepared teachers and yet insist on holding a monopoly in awarding teaching degrees. "It's high time that we broke up the cartel," she said. "We need to hold graduate schools of education more accountable." Merseth says that of the 1,300 graduate teacher training programs in the country, about 100 or so are adequately preparing teachers and "the others could be shut down tomorrow."
The quality of education graduate schools was not the main topic of the event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. It surfaced during a larger discussion about how to train and recruit great teachers—a subject of increasing interest in Washington. President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to invest heavily in education, and improving the quality of teaching is a key piece of his plan to fix schools.
One model that holds promise is teacher residency programs. Candidates are required to spend at least a year shadowing a seasoned teacher during the day while taking university coursework in the evenings. Those who complete the program receive the keys to their own classroom. Supporters argue that graduates of residency programs are better prepared for the challenges of teaching in high-needs schools and, as a result, are less likely to burn out quickly and quit. Two of the more successful residency programs operate in Chicago and Boston. (U.S. News is visiting Chicago's this week.)
Norman Atkins, the founder of a network of charter schools in New York and New Jersey, offers another promising model. He is also the founder of Teacher U, a teacher training program that operates in partnership with Hunter College in New York. The coursework is rigorous and focuses on specific techniques used by effective teachers. At the end of two years, candidates must prove how they raised student achievement in a classroom in order to receive a master's degree.
We'll keep you posted on the debate in Washington and the record of these programs. In the meantime, we want to hear what you think makes a great teacher. If you are considering teaching as a career, tell us what path into the classroom sounds more appealing to you.