America’s economic future depends on the success of our public schools, and the success of our schools depends upon effective teachers and principals.
In the next Congress, both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act will be up for reauthorization. We need to seize this opportunity to improve the chances for student success by building a truly collaborative system for educator preparation -- one that creates a positive school environment, allows educators to work together and connects higher education to early childhood and K-12 education.
Currently, these systems function in their own separate silos of educational policy and practice. While some innovative practices are being implemented in each arena, there is no systematic connection. Educational stakeholders -- parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and policy makers -- need to engage now on how best to establish an aligned system, especially for the preparation of new educators who will be teaching and leading in schools with the greatest needs.
Our legislation, the Educator Preparation Reform Act, increases collaboration between high-need local educational agencies, clinical teacher preparation sites, and community stakeholder organizations, and, secondly, streamlines and strengthens the accountability for teacher preparation programs. In developing this legislation, we have had input from a broad coalition of stakeholders representing teachers, colleges and universities, principals, school boards, and community-based organizations. Moving forward, we will continue to seek input from the community and from our colleagues to strengthen the proposal and to ultimately enact legislation that will chart a clear path forward for preparing educators for success in our schools and classrooms.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act builds on the success of the Teacher Quality Partnership Program, which connects institutions of higher education with high-needs school districts and other partners to reform teacher education and help teacher preparation programs and public schools collectively and collaboratively share new ideas and best practices.
One of the toughest challenges facing high-need schools is retaining effective teachers and principals. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, almost half of teachers leave their job within five years -- creating a churn that correlates to poorer outcomes for students. One way to combat this high turnover rate is to improve educator preparation. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers with greater levels of preparation are more likely to remain in their jobs than those that did not go through a teacher preparation program.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act will help local schools and community organizations and institutions of higher learning partner together to provide yearlong teacher and principal residency programs -- pairing a high-need school district with an educator preparation program -- to ensure that new, well-qualified teachers and principals are ready to serve in high-need school districts.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act overhauls the cumbersome and opaque reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs with a focus on transparency and data that can inform program improvement. Under this bill, teacher preparation programs would report on key quality measures that address both program inputs and outcomes, such as grade point averages and test scores for teacher candidates admitted to the program, data on clinical preparation requirements, and program graduate’s impact on student learning, performance in the classroom, and retention in the field of teaching.
All programs -- whether traditional or alternative routes to certification -- must be accountable and report on the same measures.
We require states to identify at-risk and low performing programs and provide them with technical assistance and a timeline for improvement. States would be asked to close programs that do not improve.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act would also support assessments to measure teacher readiness for the classroom. States and teacher preparation programs that implement these teacher performance assessments would be able to report on the outcomes on these assessments rather than on the current teacher licensing exams.
Finally, the Educator Preparation Reform Act makes important changes to the TEACH Grant program to focus on students who have committed to pursuing teaching in programs that meet the quality standards for performance set by their state. Eligibility for grants would be restricted to the final two years of a teacher preparation program. In this way, we will reduce the number of TEACH Grant recipients who are required to pay back their grants as loans because after a few semesters they decide that teaching is not for them. Institutions that are identified as low-performing in their state will not be eligible to offer new TEACH Grants to their students.
Our focus on the educator is essential, now more than ever before.
Every day, in schools and classrooms across the country, hardworking teachers, principals, and support staff work to spark innovation and prepare our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
We can help them today, by passing the Educator Preparation Reform Act and ensuring that educators in the classroom are well-prepared to enter the profession and the best and brightest are ready to serve where they are needed the most.
Michael Honda is a Democratic U.S. representative from California, and Jack Reed, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Rhode Island.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 29, 2012 - 3:00am
The University of Wisconsin System on Wednesday released details about its new competency-based degree offerings, an effort the system first announced in July. Next year campuses will offer degree and certificate programs that are grounded in a series of assessments designed to test student mastery. And the UW Colleges, which are the system's two-year institutions, will offer general education courses in the new competency-based "UW Flexible Option" format. Students will be able to take assessments based not just on self-paced coursework, but on knowledge gained through military and on-the-job training as well as other learning experiences, including MOOCs, the system said.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 28, 2012 - 3:00am
A large majority of Americans who have attended college believe higher education is a good investment (83 percent) and key to achieving the American dream, according to the results of a national opinion poll Northeastern University released on Tuesday. But an equal proportion of all respondents, including those who had not attended college, said the U.S. higher education system needs to change in order to remain competitive with those of other countries. The poll also found that most Americans believe in the growing value of online degrees. Among respondents between the ages of 18 and 30, 68 percent said an online degree will be just as recognized and accepted among employers as a traditional degree will be in the next five to seven years.
In my 14-year tenure as president I have often been asked to define and defend the notion of a "useful" liberal arts education. The general public has difficulty associating the liberal arts with anything useful. That obstacle prompts them to dismiss liberal arts colleges as repositories of graduates with majors such as philosophy, history, anthropology and American studies who cannot get jobs. The thought that these same colleges also have majors such as biology, chemistry, physics and economics is totally missed.
The public is not to blame. American higher education never really experienced the American Revolution. While we threw away the oppressive dictates of monarchy, we never threw off the privileged notion of an English upper class liberal education that was literally defined as being only for those with sufficient wealth to do nothing professionally but dabble in learning. We remained enthralled by the notion of learning for learning’s sake and despite our emerging pragmatic nature, wanted our education to remain sublime and removed from the business of life.
There were prominent founders of the nation who argued for a new kind of liberal education for a new kind of nation. Thomas Jefferson urged a "practical education" for his University of Virginia. And Benjamin Rush, the founder of Dickinson College, decried the unwillingness of Americans to reform education after the Revolution:
It is equally a matter of regret, that no accommodation has been made in the system of education in our seminaries [colleges] to the new form of our government and the many national duties, and objects of knowledge, that have been imposed upon us by the American Revolution. Instead of instructing our sons in the Arts most essential to their existence, and in the means of acquiring that kind of knowledge which is connected to the time, the country, and the government in which they live, they are compelled to spend [time] learning two languages which no longer exist, and are rarely spoken, which have ceased to be the vehicles of Science and literature, and which contain no knowledge but what is to be met with in a more improved and perfect state in modern languages. We have rejected hereditary power in the governments of our country. But we continue the willing subjects of a system of education imposed upon us by our ancestors in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Had agriculture, mechanics, astronomy, navigation and medicine been equally stationary, how different from the present would have been the condition of mankind!
But these singular calls for a more pragmatic education in America to match a new form of government went largely unheeded. Rush’s founding of Dickinson is particularly illustrative. In his 1785 "Plan of Education" he called for a "useful liberal education." The curriculum was to be absent instruction in the writing and speaking of Greek and Latin, but rich in instruction of German, French, Spanish and even Native American languages as those would be highly useful to Americans striving to establish a native economy that would grow as it interacted linguistically with trading nations throughout the world and in the United States. Democracy was to be established through commerce informed by useful liberal education. Liberal education, commerce and democracy were interdependent. The Dickinson course of study was also to include chemistry as Rush thought this subject held the greatest number of connections to emerging knowledge useful to the nation.
The first president of the college and Rush’s fellow trustees ignored his plan. They recommitted to what Rush once called "the monkish" course of study, unchanged for centuries.
Latin and Greek were taught and a chemistry professor was not hired. Additionally, the college refused to hire a German professor. Rush was so angry that he founded nearby what was called Franklin College (today Franklin and Marshall College). It wasn’t until 1999 that Rush’s notion of a "useful" liberal education was reintroduced and embraced explicitly as part of a revised mission statement some 216 years after it was introduced.
Unfortunately for those in America today who wish to argue the usefulness, and thus the worthiness, of a liberal arts education, the founding fathers were not explicit. We know that a liberal education was to yield informed citizens who could build and protect the new government. We know that certain courses were to be taken out and others inserted — those that related more to emerging and immediately explicable knowledge, expanded the appreciation of democracy and created new knowledge and wealth that would materially power the nation’s development. A useful liberal arts education was essentially entrepreneurial. But for all the novelty and potent force in this "disruptive technology" in American higher education introduced by the founding fathers, we know little about how a liberal arts education actually becomes useful — that is, how the study of the liberal arts converts to material effect in the wider world.
Much is at stake to define explicitly and to reassert the usefulness of a distinctively American liberal arts education. The liberal arts are under assault by those who, under the mantle of affordability and efficiency, would reject it for the immediate, but often temporary, benefit of higher education defined as job training. My own experience offers a definition for the 21st century, in fact, for any century, where economic uncertainty prevails. I was a German and philosophy double major. At first glance, what could be more useless? And yet, my professional life has proven such a conclusion wrong.
I have been — sometimes simultaneously — a military officer, a pre-collegiate teacher, administrator and coach. I founded an athletic team, developed a major center at a prestigious research university, acted as a senior consultant to the U.S. Department of State with diplomatic status, served as a corporate officer at two publicly traded companies and now serve as president of Dickinson College. For none of these careers did I ever study formally or take a class.
I gained competency through independent reading, experience and observation. I appreciated that the breadth of knowledge and the depth of cognitive skill that my undergraduate courses in social science, political science, art and science prepared me for any field of professional pursuit. I was prepared for professional chance. I knew how to ask the right questions, how to gather information, how to make informed decisions, how to see connections among disparate areas of knowledge, how to see what others might miss, how to learn quickly the basics of a profession, how to discern pertinent information from that which is false or misleading, how to judge good, helpful people from those who wish you ill. All of this I gathered in a useful liberal education — in and out of the classroom — and in an intense residential life where experimentation with citizenship and social responsibility were guiding principles.
There were no formal, discrete courses to learn these habits of mind and action — no courses devoted to brain exercises, critical-thinking skills, leadership and citizenship; rather, professors and staff were united in all interactions to impress upon students day after day, year after year a liberal arts learning environment that was intellectually rigorous and defining. This was contextual learning at its fullest deployment. We absorbed and gradually displayed ultimately useful knowledge and skill not in a studied manner, but discretely and naturally. Time after time in my various careers, I applied these liberal arts skills to solve materially wider-world problems. And most important, except for my military service and my college presidency, none of my jobs existed before I assumed them. My useful education has enabled me to maximize opportunity within highly fluid and changing employment rhythms. As I now face another job transition in my life, I go forward with confidence that something appropriate will develop. I have no concrete plans and I like it that way. I know I am prepared on the basis of my liberal arts education to maximize chance. Something will develop. Something that probably doesn’t yet exist.
I am not alone in my appreciation of the liberal arts. Those of privilege have appreciated liberal education historically. It has contributed to their access and hold on power and influence. Their sons and daughters, generation after generation, have attended liberal arts institutions without hesitation. There is no job training in their educational landscape. It would be tragic if all the new and previously underserved populations now having access to higher education missed the opportunity for their turn at leadership and influence simply because of the outspoken — arguably purposeful — dismissal of the liberal arts as "useless," often by those who received a liberal arts education themselves and intend nothing less for their own children.
William G. Durden is president of Dickinson College.