While it’s common for the nation to engage in lengthy debates about the state of our nation’s schools, teacher preparation is rarely mentioned inside that discussion. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, recently put a laser focus on teacher education in a speech in which he detailed a long history of attacks on the low quality of teacher education. Based on his assessment, teacher education must make comprehensive reforms so that student achievement is at the core of its work. There is no counter-argument to this proposal. The job of a teacher is to create opportunities for students to grow academically and teacher education must prepare teachers to be successful in achieving that goal.
We are pleased to report that the teacher education programs within the University of California have already put student achievement at the forefront and are now counted as among the best in the nation, providing research-based, proven practices combined with extensive experience in schools. In fact, we would recommend to Mr. Duncan that our model could serve to improve teacher education nationwide. Here are some of the reasons why:
In 2002, the UC system, along with Stanford University, developed and implemented a rigorous performance assessment, known as the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT), for all teacher candidates. Candidates must create a set of well-developed lessons for which they document their planning, instruction and assessment of student work. They must videotape their teaching and analyze how they’ve engaged students and where they can improve on their students’ opportunities to learn. They also learn advanced strategies for evaluating their students’ work, noting what students understood and how next steps in teaching will address next steps in student learning. Throughout their teaching they must document strategies and supports for their English learners and students with other special needs. Expert educators, many of whom are former or practicing K-12 teachers, undergo rigorous scorer training in order to evaluate the teacher candidates’ work and decide whether a license is warranted. While the majority of our students do very well, not every candidate passes this rigorous assessment of teaching.
Among the other strengths in the UC system teacher education programs is the linkage between teacher credentialing and a graduate degree. Each UC program admits students to a master’s degree program so candidates do UC-caliber graduate work as they learn to teach. Our advanced curriculum allows us to address the complex connection between instruction and student learning. We routinely hear from experienced teachers and administrators that our graduates are well prepared and professional. Not only do these graduates rate highly in their classroom teaching, they are the teachers who will become leaders in reforming instruction in their schools, their districts and our state.
Mr. Duncan also mentioned that many teacher education programs nationwide have become a dumping ground for university students who have failed out of other majors. Teacher candidates in the UC must major in an academic field. For instance, our future mathematics teachers take courses with engineers and scientists, not only those who are considering a teaching career.
Our model, with its use of a rigorous performance assessment system, graduate level curriculum and challenging disciplinary courses, is teacher education that will make all Californians proud. And if the secretary is interested, we are willing to help teacher educators nationwide connect teacher learning to student performance and ensure that we can fulfill our promise of an excellent education for all children and youth.
Kip Téllez, Associate Professor & Chair, UC Santa Cruz Education Department
Tine Sloan, Director, Teacher Education, UC Santa Barbara Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
Anne Jones, Director, Teacher Education, UC Riverside Graduate School of Education
Jody Priselac, Executive Director, Center X, UC Los Angeles Graduate School of Education & Information Studies