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Teachers' Colleges Respond to Duncan Remarks

I checked in with the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education today to get some feedback on what her members thought about Education Secretary Arne Duncan's speech on teacher colleges. Overall, she said, her members were disappointed in the tenor of the speech and hope for a more balanced address at the next, when he addresses educators at Teachers College, in New York City, on Oct. 22.

"I think that in one sense, Arne used the [UVA] speech to review some of the perennial criticisms of teacher education. I'm hoping he'll use the speech at Teachers College to talk about some of the work that is going on in response to those criticisms," said Sharon Robinson. "I'm not asking that he avoid critique. ... I'm just hoping it will be [an address] that does more to inspire us and bring us all together to support change rather than create an angry defensive reaction out of which it's very hard to motivate people for change."

Ms. Robinson pointed to a couple of initiatives that she thinks are helping change the status quo in teacher education. The recent changes to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education's system, she said, give universities the cover to try new kinds of reforms, rather than being hamstrung by old regulations. Closer partnerships between districts and universities result in stronger accountability for both sides. And advances in performance-based teacher assessments could lead to better understanding of the qualities of effective teaching and the extent to which specific universities produce graduates that exhibit those qualities.

States, Ms. Robinson added, should also take a stronger role in stepping in when programs aren't up to par in meeting new demands, such as working with diverse populations. After all, poor programs aren't going to close themselves.

"It should be known to prospective teachers that if a program cannot give you a good solid experience managing a classroom with ELLs, it's defective," she said. "Any institutions using public funds should be responsive to public priorities."

Be sure to check out her remarks up on the AACTE Web site.

I don't know if her arguments will convince those who criticize university-based teacher preparation. But clearly Duncan will be the one to watch next week—and his tone will set important signals about his administration's priorities for teacher preparation.

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