Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Compton on teacher training

Bob Compton with some very wise and important thoughts on what Finland does to attract and train top-quality teachers and what we should do to get on the same path:


One of the many things I learned producing my film, The Finland Phenomenon, was the importance of setting a very high standard for the education and training of teachers.

Finland's high school teachers are required to have both a Bachelors and Master's degree in the subject they teach (e.g.,  math, physics, history, etc.) combined with one-year of pedagogical training with very heavy emphasis in real classroom teaching experience under the guidance of an outstanding seasoned teacher.

By contrast, most U.S. states require only a Bachelor's degree from a college of education with an emphasis in the subject to be taught - and frequently that subject matter is taught by professors in the Education School, not in the actual subject department. Think of it as content and rigor "light" for teachers.

So, what should America do to apply this obvious lesson from Finland? My thoughts:

1) Each U.S. state needs to cut off the supply of teachers not sufficiently prepared to teach this generation at its source. The source is colleges of education. A state legislature and governor can change the requirements to be a teacher in their State. All it takes is courage to withstand the screams from colleges of education - the sacred cash cow of most universities.

2) To teach at the high school level, a state should require the prospective teacher to have at least an undergraduate degree in the subject they plan to teach and from the department that teaches that subject (e.g. - teaching math? Require a B.S. from the Math department).

3) Prospective teachers need more classroom training before they land in front of a group of their own students. The Finns (and Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Singaporeans, etc.) get this.  A one-year pedagogical training, that includes at least 6 months of assisting a master teacher in the classroom, is critical to the new teacher's success. Observing great teaching, absorbing proven lesson plans, practice teaching with critique by the master teacher, learning classroom management, etc. This one year would be the prospective teacher's 5th year of study before certification -- and is just crucial to their success.

The failure of all 50 U.S. states (plus DC) to prepare teachers for the demands of the classroom results in a staggering level of "churn" of new teachers.

From the data I have been able to gather, it appears that each year somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 first time  teachers are hired (I get conflicting numbers). So, as many as 20,000-30,000 of those teachers are simply replacing the beginning teachers who quit after their first year.

The data would suggest that about half of the first time teachers hired each year are replacing other beginning teachers hired within the past five years who have simply quit. The remaining are replacing teachers who retire, are let go or are mid-career teachers who leave the profession. Check my math (I did go to public school) and verify the data, but that is my reading.

In business, if I saw anything close to that level of "churn" at the entry level of say, a sales organization, I'd be alarmed. You want your new hires to be successful early on. It is a hugely expensive undertaking to recruit and train a new employee -- "churn" drives up costs enormously. Moreover, customer relationships -- or student-teacher relationships -- deteriorate terribly with this pattern.

SUMMARY: Raise the education requirements and require classroom-based training for new teachers and education costs will decline while results goes up. Moreover, one does not need to micro-manage highly trained, well prepared teachers.

All it takes is political will.

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