A little over a decade ago, a mentor of mine was asked what he would do to fix public education if he was in charge for the day. His response was blunt and to the point.
“I’d blow up the schools of education.”
As one can imagine, the remark spurred a firestorm of responses, with most calling for his head and a much smaller group cheering, “Hear, hear!”
As raw as the statement was, it reflected the belief that schools of education were not doing all they could to prepare educators for the 21st century classroom. In too many ed schools, prospective teachers just weren’t getting the high-quality academic preparation, clinical experience, mentoring and support necessary to succeed as beginning teachers.
It’s Time to Get It Right
However, rather than blow them up, we need to join together to help schools of education get it right.
We have been asking more and more from our teachers. A decade ago, the remark was delivered expecting teachers to be researchers and psychometricians. In the years since, we have looked to those same beginning teachers to also be social workers, assessment administrators, referees, moral compasses, and the ultimate criteria for whether school districts, schools and students were succeeding.
More than 90 percent of today’s classroom teachers are still prepared by traditional schools of education, most of which have not meaningfully evolved from the way they have taught for decades.
As other sectors such as finance, government, media and health care have been adjusting to the information economy, education has been slower to do so. Despite the best of intentions and efforts, teacher education today remains a model of an industrial economy. What worked for previous generations doesn’t fill all the needs prospective educators must meet today.
Schools of education should be retrofitted for a new era, an era focused on content mastery, research-proven approaches and measurable achievement. They need to be.
Improving Education Schools
For nearly a decade, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has worked to help improve education schools. Through the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, for instance, it partners with dozens of universities across the nation on improving their teacher education programs. Today, its efforts can be seen at 28 universities and in the futures of the many students Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows will educate over the next 15 years.
Those who have worked in public schools know that even the best teachers need excellent administrators and education leaders supporting them. That is why we built the MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership, now in Indiana, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, to create a more rigorous master’s degree program designed to equip school and district leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to be both the building managers and instructional leaders our communities look for.
We need a new teacher-education model focused on outcomes and one that requires recognition that learning, time and process are variables and that one size definitely does not fit all.
This is more than just a wish list. It is now what the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is doing, in collaboration with MIT. This summer, we launched the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning. Part graduate school of education, part laboratory, the Woodrow Wilson Academy will provide competency-based master’s degree programs. It also intends to offer professional development programs, using the competencies, curriculum and assessments developed for the graduate program to provide the high-quality, results-focused in-service education so many states, school districts and educators seek.
All Woodrow Wilson Academy programs will be developed in open source, serving as a resource for universities and other teacher and education leader programs across the nation to take full advantage of. Whether it be part or all of the Woodrow Wilson model, our program content and assessments will be available for other institutions of higher education to use to improve their own programs and enhance their own teacher education offerings.
The time has come to stop blaming education schools and their graduates for the ills of our communities. Instead, we must do all that is possible to strengthen our colleges and universities, ensuring they are providing all prospective educators—particularly those seeking to teach in high-need schools—the pre-service education necessary to succeed. That is the mission of the Woodrow Wilson Academy.