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Don't Forsake Quality When Hiring Teachers

You can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading a story about the need for 2 million new teachers in this decade, a number as staggering as it's worrisome. All of which makes me think that we've become so obsessed with the quantity required to meet growing public school needs that we're failing to give at least equal attention to the matter of the quality of the next generation of teachers who will be in classrooms well into this new century.

You can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading a story about the need for 2 million new teachers in this decade, a number as staggering as it's worrisome.

All of which makes me think that we've become so obsessed with the quantity required to meet growing public school needs that we're failing to give at least equal attention to the matter of the quality of the next generation of teachers who will be in classrooms well into this new century.

Incidentally, while there is a tremendous focus on the teacher shortage in the coming decade, history shows we can by no means be sure of the 2 million projection.

There is no question that we're going to require lots and lots of new teachers due to retirements, attrition rates and population growth, but other factors may intervene. For instance, delayed retirement, second teaching jobs after retirement, the expansion of privatization efforts and new technologies, may reduce requirements.

But if the poor working conditions and relatively low salaries of teachers persist, the 2 million number could turn out be an underestimation. My point is 10-year projections are inevitably iffy matters.

But what's not an iffy matter is the need for more highly sophisticated professionals in the nation's classrooms. More of the best and the brightest must be recruited for teaching, including some of those who are now considering medicine, law and engineering.

Schools of education must do a better job of preparing those who choose to enter

the profession. But the issue of teaching quality is probably best addressed, in the first instance, by those who teach teachers. Our schools of education simply must be held accountable for producing first-class graduates with the appropriate tools they need to meet their responsibilities in the Information Age.

In the meantime, there are experts from on high who even suggest getting rid of education schools altogether as a solution. The argument is that it takes no special knowledge other than subject matter to teach. So, recruit students with liberal arts degree in, say, math, science or history and let them stand at the front of a classroom. That's truly a prescription for disaster.

Good teachers, the kind we desperately want and need to educate our children, not only must know their subjects well, but also must know curriculum design; pedagogy, evaluation, testing, communications, human development, children's learning styles and classroom management (no one can be effective with say, 25 children without that skill).

Also, today the ability to use technology in a way that enhances learning is essential; it must be a fundamental requirement, an essential of literacy.

To ensure quality in the nation's classrooms, the need for a far greater number of math and science teachers and teachers of English as second language is clear, not to mention special education. Beyond this, all of tomorrow's teachers are going to have to know how to work effectively with an increasingly diverse ethnic school population. Acute awareness of cultural differences and learning styles is vital, along with a belief system that encompasses the view that all students can learn.
Equally troubling is the fact that too many new, young teachers, often among the very best, leave the public system after two or three years. In New York, 30% leave within three years.

Across urban America, a heavy-handed bureaucratic system, along with unsatisfactory salaries and working conditions, has simply beaten new teachers down. They deserve a better fate in all three areas if we're to harness the energy and talent, along with the idealism, that brought them to the classroom in the first place.

And colleges and universities can ill-afford to act as if public schooling is not an intimate part of the learning continuum that culminates on their campuses with students and begins on their campus for teachers. We need to treat our graduates as apprentices and continue to work with them in their early years by providing mentors, creating peer support groups and deepening their skills and knowledge.

Recently a superintendent from a middle-sized district complained to me about the number of "warm bodies" he would need when school begins next September. He simply didn't see where the numbers would come from.

The matter of numbers is indeed a problem, a huge one, but unless we focus more seriously on the quality of those numbers at the same time, the quality of education in our schools will decline. And unless we find ways to confront both issues effectively, not only will our children lose but, so will our country.

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared in Newsday, September 10, 2000

Published Thursday, Jul. 11, 2002

Don't Forsake Quality When Hiring Teachers

You can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading a story about the need for 2 million new teachers in this decade, a number as staggering as it's worrisome.

All of which makes me think that we've become so obsessed with the quantity required to meet growing public school needs that we're failing to give at least equal attention to the matter of the quality of the next generation of teachers who will be in classrooms well into this new century.

Incidentally, while there is a tremendous focus on the teacher shortage in the coming decade, history shows we can by no means be sure of the 2 million projection.

There is no question that we're going to require lots and lots of new teachers due to retirements, attrition rates and population growth, but other factors may intervene. For instance, delayed retirement, second teaching jobs after retirement, the expansion of privatization efforts and new technologies, may reduce requirements.

But if the poor working conditions and relatively low salaries of teachers persist, the 2 million number could turn out be an underestimation. My point is 10-year projections are inevitably iffy matters.

But what's not an iffy matter is the need for more highly sophisticated professionals in the nation's classrooms. More of the best and the brightest must be recruited for teaching, including some of those who are now considering medicine, law and engineering.

Schools of education must do a better job of preparing those who choose to enter

the profession. But the issue of teaching quality is probably best addressed, in the first instance, by those who teach teachers. Our schools of education simply must be held accountable for producing first-class graduates with the appropriate tools they need to meet their responsibilities in the Information Age.

In the meantime, there are experts from on high who even suggest getting rid of education schools altogether as a solution. The argument is that it takes no special knowledge other than subject matter to teach. So, recruit students with liberal arts degree in, say, math, science or history and let them stand at the front of a classroom. That's truly a prescription for disaster.

Good teachers, the kind we desperately want and need to educate our children, not only must know their subjects well, but also must know curriculum design; pedagogy, evaluation, testing, communications, human development, children's learning styles and classroom management (no one can be effective with say, 25 children without that skill).

Also, today the ability to use technology in a way that enhances learning is essential; it must be a fundamental requirement, an essential of literacy.

To ensure quality in the nation's classrooms, the need for a far greater number of math and science teachers and teachers of English as second language is clear, not to mention special education. Beyond this, all of tomorrow's teachers are going to have to know how to work effectively with an increasingly diverse ethnic school population. Acute awareness of cultural differences and learning styles is vital, along with a belief system that encompasses the view that all students can learn.
Equally troubling is the fact that too many new, young teachers, often among the very best, leave the public system after two or three years. In New York, 30% leave within three years.

Across urban America, a heavy-handed bureaucratic system, along with unsatisfactory salaries and working conditions, has simply beaten new teachers down. They deserve a better fate in all three areas if we're to harness the energy and talent, along with the idealism, that brought them to the classroom in the first place.

And colleges and universities can ill-afford to act as if public schooling is not an intimate part of the learning continuum that culminates on their campuses with students and begins on their campus for teachers. We need to treat our graduates as apprentices and continue to work with them in their early years by providing mentors, creating peer support groups and deepening their skills and knowledge.

Recently a superintendent from a middle-sized district complained to me about the number of "warm bodies" he would need when school begins next September. He simply didn't see where the numbers would come from.

The matter of numbers is indeed a problem, a huge one, but unless we focus more seriously on the quality of those numbers at the same time, the quality of education in our schools will decline. And unless we find ways to confront both issues effectively, not only will our children lose but, so will our country.

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared in Newsday, September 10, 2000

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