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OpinionColumnistsAnne Michaud

Education reformers tighten screws on teachers colleges

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If U.S. education reform hasn't left you breathless already, hang on. The next whoosh is coming.

The New York State Department of Education recently posted results online showing how teachers colleges did in training students to pass tough new certification standards. The news wasn't good for some colleges on Long Island, which ranged from a low of 47 percent for would-be teachers studying at Dowling College in Oakdale to a high of 81 percent for education majors at Stony Brook University.

Statewide, the average achieving certification was 68 percent. In the past, more than 95 percent of education majors passed, qualifying them to teach in New York's public schools.

State education officials say their get-tough policy is part of a national movement.

Getting tougher on teachers colleges is a wonderful development, buttressing the higher expectations of students that came with the Common Core standards. Better teachers equal better schooling for our kids. And college students don't want to invest tuition and time for education degrees that won't get them where they want to go: into classrooms.

Across New York, the Class of 2012 graduated 15,102 certified teachers, but just 3,000 had jobs that fall. A year later, in the fall of 2013, just 1,289 more had found teaching jobs.

Shouldn't a teaching certificate mean a better-than-30-percent chance of getting a job in the field?

For those who did make it to the front of a classroom, education officials say, many felt ill-prepared. Nearly 10 percent of new teachers quit before their first year is over. Education schools aren't preparing their graduates for real-world challenges. Common Core methods may have gotten out ahead of many colleges, and some have faced declining state aid.

So New York's education department, along with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is putting the squeeze on teachers colleges to do better -- and publishing their dubious success rates is the first tightening of the screws.

Washington, too, will be in on the squeeze. At a recent meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees public school testing, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department will release regulations to overhaul teacher preparation "very, very soon."

As it did with Race to the Top grants, Duncan's department plans to tie federal money to goals such as whether aspiring teachers are getting jobs and staying in them, and whether teachers are boosting students' test scores.

New York teachers must pass four measures to gain a certificate: Educating All Students, meaning the ability to connect with a diverse population; Academic Literacy Skills, requiring test-takers to demonstrate an understanding of texts; Education Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, which requires video of would-be teachers in front of a classroom; and various content areas such as mathematics, biology, music, etc.

In New York, education colleges where 80 percent or less pass the certification exams are required to write a corrective action plan that shows how they will improve in the next three years.

This is good news for our schools, as baby boomers retire and new graduates fill in the ranks.

It's also good news for teachers. As one Newsday commenter said online, "Maybe if people stop thinking that becoming a teacher is a piece of cake, then respect may be returned to the profession."

I couldn't have put it better.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.



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