Should the U.S. Make It Harder to Become a Teacher?

June 23, 2014

I think we can all agree that nothing is more important to a student’s success than their teacher. Every day, parents put their trust in the hands of these unique individuals who dedicate their lives to helping children learn, dream, and grow. And every day great teachers are putting in the hard work of nurturing and challenging their students to reach their full potential.

However, there are still far too many children in classrooms with teachers that are not adequately prepared. And many of these teachers are serving the students most at-risk—students of color and those that live in poverty. What can this country do to ensure teachers are better prepared for the challenges they face in the classroom?

We can look at the institutions training them.    

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its second annual Teacher Prep Review report this week which ranks 2,400 elementary, secondary, and special education programs across the country.

The results are eye opening.

  • Of the 836 education colleges in the U.S., only 13% are listed as top-ranked programs.

  • Elementary programs are far weaker than their secondary counterparts, with 1.7 times as many elementary programs as secondary programs found to be failing.

  • 23 states don’t have a single program that provides solid math preparation resembling the practices of high-performing nations.

  • Nearly half of all programs (47%) fail to ensure that teacher candidates are capable STEM instructors.

In a recent article for Slate, journalist and author of The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley attributes much of the student success in the top performing nations to the rigor of their teacher prep programs. If the United States is to dramatically improve education she argues, then we need to make it harder to become a teacher.

According to Ripley, teacher-training colleges in Finland only accept ten percent of applicants. The NCTQ report reveals that three out of four schools in the United States do not require applicants to even be in the top half of their graduating class. That won’t get it done.

Ripley says that we need to “Treat the preparation of teachers the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots—rendering it dramatically more selective, practical, and rigorous. All of which could transform not only the quality of teaching in America but the way the rest of us think about school and learning.”

To view the top 10 teacher prep programs in both elementary and secondary education, visit the U.S. News & World website.