The State of Teacher Education

The State of Teacher Education

By Timothy Dohrer

Recently, teacher preparation programs across the country have reported drops in their enrollment. As director of the Master of Science in Education Program, Timothy Dohrer tries to grapple with this emerging issue in his most recent essay.

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We have a problem.

As I have leapt into the work of preparing the next generation of elementary and secondary teachers in this country, I have been shocked by the declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs. In the past two years, almost every teacher prep program in the United States has reported a decline in enrollment. The most recent article in Education Week from October 21, 2014 describes this as a real trend in individual states like New York, Texas, California, and Florida, as well as across the country. They also suggest several reasons for the decline, including the weak economy, negative perceptions of teaching, and the increased pressure on teachers by outside forces. All this is happening at a time when the largest and most diverse group of K-12 students are in our school systems.

We have a problem.

There is no doubt that economics is at play here and it is directly related to the respect given to teachers in terms of compensation. According the National Center for Education Statistics, the average starting salary for a new teacher in 2013 was $36,141. Compare that to the average starting salary in law, business, or computer science of over $55,000 and you can see why many college graduates are staying away from teaching. Recent reports have also looked at earning potential over a career and once again teaching is at the bottom of the barrel. Teachers with 10-14 years of experience can expect to make $54,860 while lawyers can expect to make between $100,000 and $255,000, quite a bit more than professional educators.

Public opinion has also created a negative perception of teaching. The number of high school students interested in pursuing a teaching career has plummeted by 35% according to the College Board. Cover stories like the recent Time article on teacher tenure referring to teachers as “rotten apples” continue the mythology that all teachers are bad. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (and others) announce that the problem with American schools are the teachers. Even the U.S. Department of Education has labeled teachers and teacher preparation as one of the big culprits in America’s supposed decline in school quality. Why would anyone be attracted to the profession?

And as for those outside forces? The increase in accountability and imposed standards has led to an increase in mandated impositions that take away from an individual teacher’s ability to make instructional decisions for an individual student, a class of kids, or even their own curriculum. Even some outside forces who are trying to help can drive candidates away from teaching. The new teacher preparation accrediting agency, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation(CAEP) has adopted standards that require programs to only admit students who score in the top third on entrance exams. While we can applaud high standards, we also have to look at the bar to entering the profession being set too high or based on tests that have already been proven to be unfair to minorities or students with learning disabilities. While we ramp up standards, we will most certainly chase away quality teachers.

The result of all this are historic crops in enrollment. There is already a shortage of teachers and this will only worsen in the next five years. We certainly have a problem. And I’m not sure I have a solution yet, but I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and start working on it. It starts with recognizing the problem exists.

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