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Duncan Calls for “Sea Change” in Education Schools

Programs need revolutionary change, accommodating a range of learning styles.
For Arne Duncan, successful schools of education have "a single-minded focus on improving student learning and using data to inform instruction."

Saying that many schools of education are doing a “mediocre job,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for a “sea change” in how they train teachers. In an address on Oct. 22 at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Duncan said, “America's university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change—not evolutionary tinkering.”

The speech was part of an October campaign by Duncan focused on teacher preparation programs. On Oct. 9 he spoke to prospective teachers at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education in Charlottesville, Va., and on Oct. 20 he hosted a virtual town hall meeting on the topic “Elevating the Teaching Profession.”

Duncan acknowledged that teaching has become more difficult than ever. Teachers must be familiar with a range of learning styles and disabilities and tailor their methods accordingly. But he also said that teaching is more important than ever and gave three reasons for why he is promoting change in how teachers are trained:

  1. It is no longer true that a person can drop out of school and expect to be gainfully employed. Educators must be trained in ways that keep students in school until they graduate.
  2. Although achievement gaps persist, quality education is the great equalizer. Teachers must reclaim the social justice function of their profession.
  3. The nation could lose a third of its teachers in the next four years with the baby boomers retiring. The DOE estimates that with retirement and attrition the nation will need 1.7 million new teachers by 2017.

But in transforming themselves in order to produce a new generation of high-quality teachers, schools of education will also need to confront an image problem. Duncan offered a brief, and brutally candid, history of how education schools have been perceived for over a century. Saying that they have often been treated like “the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education,” Duncan acknowledged the persistence of an old view that great teachers are born, not made, and that therefore schools of education are unnecessary.

But perhaps the most damning assessment Duncan recounted was a finding in a report published in 2006 by Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College. More than 3 out of 5 teachers surveyed said that their education school didn’t prepare them adequately for the real-world experience of teaching. Duncan said that his own conversations with teachers have supported this finding.

Duncan mentioned his department’s recent awarding of $43 million for 28 new five-year Teacher Quality Partnership grants as an example of what he would like to see on a larger scale. These grants will be used to reform both traditional university teacher preparation and teacher residency programs.