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Making Teachers Successful: A New Approach

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Schools are about children and their teachers and the system we have now fails them both. As it does parents and the present and future of this nation.

The reason for this generation-long failure seems to be a mystery.

There have been no answers from the unprecedented involvement of the federal government programs which offer money but not answers.

There have been no answers from the desperate Governors, Mayors, legislators and educators throughout America responsible for public education but clueless as to why all the efforts to "fix it" have failed.

After all those billions of dollars and years of struggle all we have now is teaching to the test, the scandalous padding of test results, and the latest "answer" -- senseless, soulless and degrading bureaucratic nonsense that passes for teacher evaluations, with 116 separate criteria for principals to wade through for each teacher and data which already proves it to be a failure.

In New York City, our kids are being bored to death; only barely 60% of them graduate from high school, three out of four can't get into a community college without remediation and millions of them can't make change without a calculator.

Our teachers are abandoning the field at a rate of one out of every two teachers leaving before their first five years. The ones who remain endure torturous days.

But there is an answer and it is stunning and absolutely revealing.

For the past 25 years, teacher preparation has been totally inadequate because Schools of Education, accredited and licensed to offer teaching certificates to their graduates, have totally failed to properly prepare them to teach.

In November, 2010 a report called Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers was issued by an eminent Blue Ribbon Panel formed by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the national agency which accredits Schools of Education. Without that accreditation, a School of Education is out of business.

In summary, the report said that teacher education was totally inadequate and that Schools of Education issued certificates to teach to graduates who were totally unprepared to be in a classroom.

After this extraordinary indictment, the report issued this prescription for success: Treat a student in a school of education the way a student is treated in a medical school. Make certain that education students are placed in classrooms beginning in their freshman year and for the next three years so by the time they graduate they are ready to teach our children.

This change would mean a completely different system than we have today. It would mean that elementary, middle and high schools in every community in this nation would have to seek, find and train the best teachers in those schools (no secret because principals and teachers already know who these people are) to be master teachers able to absorb a continuing flow of student-teachers into their classrooms for years, not just a few weeks. They will be the mentors that help each student teacher to decide whether teaching is for them. For those who want it, they will be fully prepared to step into their classroom for the first time after graduation, fully confident of their desire and ability to teach.

What will help today's teachers be better equipped to deal with their kids every day?

The United Federation of Teachers has a mentoring-master teacher program which has hardly seen the light of day. It's time that it did and time that the UFT put its funds on the table behind it to make it part of the everyday experience of the thousands of teachers who need help -- and know it.

There is precedent for this program. During the years when Mario Cuomo was Governor of New York, his much-admired wife, Matilda, was given credit for leading a well-respected mentoring program for children. It wasn't big enough to do the whole job, but it helped. We need to emulate that program for teachers.

With the leadership of the union and its program we can do much better.

There is something extraordinary about the parallel in making teacher education in the image of medical education. A little more than 100 years ago, the newly formed Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching supported the work of an expert educator, Abraham Flexner, in an investigation of the obvious failures of medical schools to prepare physicians to treat patients. The Flexner Report completely changed the way medical schools worked. It was a revolution that brought America to a level of expertise in medicine that we know today.

It's time for such a revolution in American education. We have the money. We now know where the answer is. We have the ability and desire at all levels of education and government to make the extraordinary changes that must be made.

Just 50 years ago we had the best public education system in the world.

Now let's do it again.

Tom Allon, a 2013 Democrat and Liberal candidate for Mayor of New York City, is a former public school English teacher at Stuyvesant High School. He helped create Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Frank McCourt High School in New York City.

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