While there are many factors critical to improving America’s primary and secondary schools, strengthening teacher education is an essential part of any strategy likely to make a difference.
When the Obama administration created the Race to the Top or RTT Fund—“to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform”—and provided $4.35 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward these goals, a key focus was teacher preparation. A crucial aim of the RTT initiative is supporting funded states to implement plans for “recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.”
As suggested by its prominence as a priority in the RTT funding solicitation, improving teacher quality is one of the most pressing issues in education reform and school improvement. Increasing the number of effective teachers in specific subject areas and in high-need schools are goals that cannot be met without significant enhancement to the capacity of teacher preparation programs to produce and support effective teachers for the nation’s schools.
Improving the quality of teacher education is a vital focus of education reform, but it is also an enormous challenge with few obvious successes from a host of redesign and reform initiatives over the past three or more decades. The difficulty of obtaining significant and widespread change in the overall quality of teacher education in the United States is behind efforts to combine a carrot-and-stick approach—offering incentives to programs that embark on serious reform efforts as well as stronger accountability mechanisms to push the same programs in the right direction.
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