Oregon teacher colleges can benefit from the spotlight: Agenda 2013

By Oregonian Editorial Board
The Oregonian

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Madysin Nicholson, a first grader at Yoshikai Elementary School in the Salem-Keizer School District, reads for Elizabeth Hendrie. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

Don’t judge Oregon’s teacher colleges by the hatchet job performed this week by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group’s first-ever report on the quality of the nation’s teacher preparatory colleges missed the mark in ways big and small.

Yet the findings provide an opportunity to shine a spotlight on Oregon’s teacher colleges and their crucial role in the quality of K-12 schools. Most of these colleges have begun to adapt to changing workforce needs, but Oregon’s efforts on recruiting and preparing teachers still have plenty of room for improvement.

This week, the national council released a report that criticized Western Oregon University, the University of Oregon and Lewis & Clark for the state of their teacher preparation programs. The state’s education community blasted the report as flawed, as The Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond reported. Granted, it isn’t uncommon for institutions to get huffy and discredit national rankings that make them look bad, but the unhappiness in this case was justified: The report seemed to base many of its harshest assessments on incomplete or inaccurate information.

So, no, Lewis & Clark probably doesn’t need a “consumer alert” next to its name. Its many alumni who have gone on to become Oregon Teacher of the Year could argue as much. But there’s no question that many of Oregon’s future teachers need more help gearing up for career success. They especially would benefit from:*  More weeks of classroom experience starting early in their teacher preparatory program;*  More help with classroom management techniques; and*  A broader skill set for teaching English language learners.Oregon is making some progress on these fronts. For example, the Salem-Keizer School District is working directly with Western Oregon University and other institutions to ensure that prospective teachers have stronger student-teaching experiences. Another goal of the partnership is to recruit talented young people — including bilingual students — into the teaching profession.

Other school districts have similar initiatives, some newly funded by the nonprofit Chalkboard Project. Meanwhile, teacher colleges are ramping up their efforts to make sure teacher candidates can do what they will be expected to do as professional educators: assess students’ needs, challenge and support them appropriately and document their progress over time.

“I think the opportunity has shifted now,” says Hilda Rosselli, state deputy director of college and career readiness, “so that we’re all working together toward the same standards.”

Still, teacher prep programs will need to adjust further to today’s K-12 reality. Teachers are expected to be far more team-oriented and data-driven than in the past. They’re also expected to help every student succeed and graduate, so that childhood challenges don’t translate into lifelong limitations.

It’s demanding work, made harder by Oregon’s inadequate funding and rising costs. If teacher colleges don’t adapt, their graduates aren’t likely to succeed in the workforce. If they do, the payoff for the next generation of teachers — and their students — will be significant.

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