THE BLOG
11/25/2014 07:14 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Teacher Education Rules an 'Important Step Forward'

The job of teacher is vastly different today than it was a decade or a generation ago. School districts, schools, and communities have had to adjust and adapt to new educational demands and new expectations. Despite this, teacher preparation today is still largely the same as the preparation teachers have received for generations.

This is a disservice to schools, students, and teachers themselves. The research is clear that having a great teacher is the single-most important element of learning for children, particularly those in high-need schools. Yet we have resisted making the changes needed to ensure that prospective teachers have the academic preparation, clinical experiences, and mentoring necessary to become those excellent teachers.

The new draft teacher preparation regulations from the U.S. Department of Education are an important step toward addressing many of the deficiencies in current teacher education programs. The priorities they outline largely reflect lessons learned by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in working to transform STEM teacher preparation. And these priorities are essential to strengthening teacher education programs to meet the future needs of schools and students alike.

From our work in states like Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation knows that such change must come at the state level. From the governor's office to the legislature, the SHEEO to the state board, improvement requires full buy-in at the state level, with leaders owning the process.

Transformation also requires meaningful data collection and application. It means data on what programs teachers come from and how long teachers stay in the profession. It means data on how novice educators view their preparation once they become teachers of record. It means data from employers on whether new teachers are meeting expectations. And it means data on student learning outcomes, data that can accurately show what teacher prep programs are most effective and what they are doing to ensure student learning and academic progress.

From our experiences over the past seven years, such transformation is not easy, but it is well worth the investment of time and effort. Today, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation partners with 28 universities to ensure a strong pipeline of excellent STEM teachers for tomorrow's classrooms. Those who have already been named Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows will touch the lives of more than 1.5 million students over a 15-year teaching career. And as shown in states like Indiana, the vast majority of our teachers -- more than 70 percent -- stay in the profession past five years.

Some in teacher preparation will voice concerns with these proposed regulations, taking issue with how to get the necessary data systems in place or with whether existing accreditation models are sufficient to meet these goals. They will ask for more time to examine the issues or to scrutinize every idea or turn of phrase in this draft document.

All of us involved in teacher education should look for ways to strengthen these regulations and improve the teacher prep process. But let us be clear: we need real action now. Our colleges and universities have waited far too long to transform these programs to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to wait as another generation of teachers passes through programs that are lacking. In the states where Woodrow Wilson has worked, we have seen a real hunger -- from state leaders, from school districts, and from colleges themselves -- to enact the sort of changes needed. We must act together -- and swiftly -- to change the very fabric of teacher education nationwide. These regulations are the first step toward achieving that.