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Conference panelists urge stronger teacher prep

Teacher preparation needs to be more rigorous, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond Monday told a Denver conference on educator prep and licensing.

The tone of the event contrasted with many of the conversations during meetings of the LEAD Compact, an appointed study that studied teacher licensure and that recently completed its work (see story). Much of the compact’s discussion involved ways to ease entry to the teaching profession.

Monday’s conference, organized by a group of education and community groups, was held as a counterpoint to the work of the compact. Conference moderator Dave Van Sant said, “Today’s event was designed as a supplement to that effort … to consider additional ideas.”

Darling-Hammond, a nationally known researcher, led off Monday’s conference at the University of Denver’s Morgridge School of Education. She spoke to the group and took questions for about 45 minutes via an Internet video connection.

“I do believe we need a major ratcheting up of the quality of preparation,” she said.

Much of her talk detailed how nations with high-achieving education systems like Finland and Singapore stress high-quality teacher preparation.

“If you look at the counties that are leading the world…all of them treat teaching as an expert profession,” she said. “The fact that we’re still debating that in the United States is shocking.”

In contrast, she said factors that undermine teaching as an expert profession — many of which are present in the U.S. — include addressing teacher shortages by reducing preparation, high teacher attrition, reduced investment in preparation programs, requirements for standardized teaching practice, failure to support teacher collaboration and learning time, and basing evaluation on bureaucratic measures rather than professional practice.

Darling-Hammond also stressed the importance of clinical training for teaching. As a slide in her PowerPoint put it, “In the U.S., teacher education is today where medical education was in 1910.”

“There is a lot of evidence that the quality of medical care and the outcomes of medical care” improved because of the standardization and improvement of medical education that happened in the last century, she said.

She closed her prepared remarks with two variations on an old cliché about teaching: “Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach” and “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t go into a less significant line of work.”

The second speaker, Vanderbilt University Gary Henry, walked through an extensive review of research in North Carolina that indicated better student achievement for teachers with high-quality preparation.

Henry said value-added teacher data is an important tool for state-level research but remains problematic for “high-stakes situations at this point.”

He said value-added data could be used to identify the 20 percent of teachers who are the lowest performing so they can receive coaching, mentoring and support. “Anything that’s more punitive … seems to us to be overly risky at this point.”

Other speakers at Monday’s event include Penn State University researcher Edward Fuller on the role of principals as instructional leaders and Doris Williams, executive director of the Rural Schools and Community Trust, who spoke about the staffing challenges for rural schools.

Teacher licensing and, to a lesser extent, teacher prep have been hot topics since last spring, when Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston considered, and then withdrew, a bill that would have changed the current licensing system and used teachers evaluations as factors in license renewal.

It remains to be seen what, if any, licensing legislation will surface during the 2014 legislative session. Johnston told EdNews, “By far my top two priorities of the session by far are trying to secure funding to implement high priority components of SB 213 and effectively supporting district implementation of current reform efforts. Licensure is a distant third priority after those, so now that LEAD is concluded and we are far closer to an agreement we will move licensure to the back burner and get to work on school funding.”

The event was sponsored by several education and community groups, including the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Rural Caucus, the public-interest law firm Children’s Voices, the Public Education & Business Coalition, the Colorado BOCES Association, the NAACP of Denver, the Colorado Latino Forum and the Boulder Valley Education Association.

More than 80 people attended the event in person, and organizers said more than 50 others observed a webcast of the session. Several members of the LEAD Compact attended the meeting, as did Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a funder of the LEAD group.

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