09/10/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Teachers In the U.S. Get Little Respect

One observation in the National Council on Teacher Quality's (NCTQ) Review and a recent book by Amanda Ripley called The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, is that teachers in the high performing countries are like gods, young people vigorously compete to be teachers, and only the best make it. They are respected and well paid too.

Things simply are not that way in the U.S. where teachers are constantly criticized, poorly paid, and cannot claim to be the best or the brightest either. In fact, according to Public Agenda citing a report from the US Department of Education, "just 54% of today's secondary teachers meet the requirements to teach...unqualified teachers and poor teaching are pervasive problems in public schools across the country."

Obviously, college and universities face many challenges turning out both teachers and other educational personnel who simply are not fully prepared to walk off the college campus one day into elementary, middle or high school the next. Equally disheartening is their ability to prepare all their students for a very different world.

The NCTQ's Review puts a lot of the blame on the Colleges of Education and say that "colleges and universities producing America's traditionally prepared teachers" had failed.

Through an exhaustive and unprecedented examination of how these schools operate, the Review finds they have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity

NCTQ provided data on 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nations traditionally trained new teachers, and strived, and not without some resistance from the colleges and universities involved "to apply the standards uniformly to all the nation's teacher preparation programs ... to the way America's teachers are prepared. In collecting information for this initial report, however, we encountered enormous resistance from leaders of many of the programs we sought to assess."

The Review was not unaware that education generally had suffered severe cuts, that class size ballooned, and teachers laid off, but they felt strongly that something else was terribly amiss and that this was the failing role of colleges of education and other programs holding themselves out as implementing teacher programs.

In a rather controversial book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, it was reported that 45 percent of the 2300 students included in the study "demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college."

The Chronicle of Higher Education, reporting on the study, said, "that a significant percentage of undergraduates are failing to develop the broad-based skills and knowledge they should be expected to master," and the workplace is looking for.

Part of the problem is there is little agreement on what a college education means. According to a Pew Study, "Just under half of the public (47%) says the main purpose of a college education is to teach work-related skills and knowledge. Another 39%, however, says that college is an opportunity for students to grow personally and intellectually." And the students themselves "value college most for job and career preparation, with intellectual objectives close behind." The question is are they getting career or life preparation?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, once offered the theory that "Majors are scholarly silos standing in the way of learning" and are part of the difficulty administrators and faculty have such a difficult time making changes that count. But universities are doing little to remove these silos. Admittedly they have recognized changes in the knowledge base, and often established new courses to meet such changes; they have even created new majors but seldom eliminate any majors or courses or merge them. K-12 schools similarly, have made some changes to the curriculum, but this is like moving the chairs around on the Titanic.

Wholesale change across K-12 and the university system is sorely needed.