MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. If you are a parent, you might be breathing a sigh of relief or already tearing your hair out trying to find things for the kids to do. Yes, it's that time. It's summer. One thing you'll probably want them to do, though, is keep reading. So our moms roundtable will pass on some of their tried and true methods for getting even reluctant readers to keep reading through the summer. That's coming up later in the program.
But first, though, we want to take a look at a new study that raises some tough questions about what's happening in classrooms the rest of the year. It's actually about the quality of instruction their teachers are getting. The report claims that most teachers are not entering their first years prepared to actually function in the classroom. That study was released today by U.S. News and World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality. That's an education research group that advocates for school reform. Here to tell us more about it is Stephanie Banchero. She's the national education reporter at The Wall Street Journal and she dug into the study. Stephanie, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
STEPHANIE BANCHERO: Yeah. Thank you for inviting me.
MARTIN: The report puts it pretty bluntly. It says that most U.S. colleges of education are quote, an industry of mediocrity - that first-year teachers who enter the classroom are quote, inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever increasing ethnic, socioeconomic student diversity. Why do they say that? Is this mainly a lack of academic preparation or is it mainly a lack of preparation for the social issues they're going to confront?
BANCHERO: Well, it's actually pretty broad. I mean, it's a pretty scathing report on colleges of education. And it from, sort of, soup to nuts, it says they're not doing a very good job. They're saying they're not preparing teachers to teach the content, so they don't know how to teach math. They, especially, don't know how to teach reading. They're not prepared to teach, you know, diverse learners, so they don't know how to teach kids where English is their second language. But also, they just don't know enough about classroom management and how to deal with behavior issues in the classroom.
MARTIN: Now there were criticisms of the methodology, I mean, we could, you know, obviously get lost in that. But you've looked into this, do you think those criticisms are valid? For example, there are a number of colleges that didn't participate, wouldn't share their syllabi, for example. So that limited the number of schools that the Council could rank to fewer than half the roughly 1,450 institutions of higher education with teacher training programs. But even all that aside, what are some of the criticisms and do you find them valid?
BANCHERO: Yes. So I mean, just one note. Any sort of education research that comes out, there's going to be somebody on the other side attacking it. So that's pretty standard practice in education. The criticisms are basically - the way that these folks rated these programs, is they did a lot of - looked at a lot of paperwork. So they looked at all the syllabi. They looked at the textbooks. They, you know, it was, basically, done by analyzing paperwork. They didn't actually go into the classroom and sit through colleges of education classrooms.
So what the colleges of education are saying is, you know, this would be similar to ranking restaurants by looking at the menu. So you don't actually go taste the food, you just look at the menu. I think there's a little bit of validity to that. But on the other hand, I think it's probably not realistic that they could go sit in every college of education, every classroom. I mean, that's sort of an unrealistic expectation. I think a more valid criticism might be that what - they didn't look at the outcome. So you're only looking at, sort of, what you're doing in the classroom to prepare this teacher. You're not looking at how that teacher then goes out and does in his or her classroom. I think that's valid. The problem is it's very difficult to measure that. And they're trying to measure it, they just don't have the data yet to do it.
MARTIN: But based just - based on what's in the report and what they did take a look at, did they have a theory about why things got to the point where, they say, that the mediocrity is the norm, that what teachers are, as a norm, being taught isn't particularly useful? Any thoughts about, you know, why that is? And I'm also, of course, very interested in what the teachers you talked to say about this.
BANCHERO: Yeah. I mean, I think that what they would say is generally this. I mean, if you look at colleges of education and how they're preparing teachers - and this is, sort of, a sweeping generalization because, obviously, there's colleges that don't follow this methodology - but that they haven't changed much in the last, say, 50 years. They basically do things the same way they've done them for 50 years. Obviously, there's some outliers there.
And if you look the classrooms of today, they're far different than they were 50 years ago. We have way more kids in poverty. We have many students where English is their second language. I mean, the classroom just looks completely different. Also, there's just, you know, technology. Are we training them properly to teach technology in the classroom? I think the overall general criticism is that they just haven't kept up with the times. They haven't changed as quickly as our K-12 classrooms are changing. So, therefore, they're not prepared for what they're facing.
MARTIN: What did some of the teachers you talked to say about this? I mean, did they find merit in these - some of these findings? Did any of the teachers you talked to say yeah, that's right, I wasn't prepared to teach?
BANCHERO: Yeah. I mean, universe - so I've been covering education for 20 years - and universally, every first-year teacher, I think, I've ever spoken to said they're not prepared. Now, I mean, you know, as a first-year journalist, I think I could probably say the same thing. I'm not sure I was prepared my first day on the job. So there's no doubt that these teachers feel like they're not completely prepared. Now, I mean, I guess the question would be whose fault is that? But universally, they're not prepared.
And I think the biggest complaint that teachers have, and that this report sort of highlighted, is that there's not enough hands-on experience. So, like, if you look at say, a medical - you know, how we prepare doctors. They have a medical residency. So before they become full-fledged doctors, they should have had the year - I think it's a year or two years where they're residents, they're not full-fledged doctors. They have somebody there, sort of, holding their hand. And what teachers will say, first-year teachers will say, look, we need more of that. We need more time in the classroom, actually seeing how it works, before we're just, sort of, unleashed into the classroom to do things.
And, you know, remember, a lot of first-year teachers end up in, you know, sort of, the hardest classrooms. I mean, urban school districts that have, you know, hard-to-staff classrooms often will fill them with, you know, new, young teachers. So that's a big disconnect.
MARTIN: We're talking with Stephanie Banchero. She's the national education reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We're talking about a new report that suggests that most teacher education programs are lacking and they do not prepare first-year teachers to actually run a classroom. We're talking about that. You know, you can see the other side of that, too, though. I mean, you can see where a lot of parents might be saying, I do not want you experimenting with my child.
BANCHERO: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: I do not want you learning on the job.
BANCHERO: Right. Right.
MARTIN: I kind of want you to be ready, you know.
BANCHERO: Ready to go. Right. Right.
MARTIN: Ready to go. Well, did the - does the report suggest any option here? Is that - is the suggestion that, perhaps, a residency-type arrangement or a fellows program or something like that should be the norm, where you work, basically, as an apprentice for a period of time under the supervision of a senior teacher or a more experienced teacher, until you learn the ropes, and then you become a fully prepared. Or are there arguments that the instruction is just so lacking, we just need to scrap the whole system and start over?
BANCHERO: Yeah. So there's - so let me answer the first part there and then I'll go back to, sort of, the instruction. I mean, in the field itself, colleges of education, many colleges of education are saying look, we need to, you know, we need to revamp ourselves. And many of them are, sort of - or some of them are adopting this, sort of, residency idea.
There's a program here in Chicago called the Academy for School Leadership where they take young teachers - first-year teachers, they put them in the classroom with another teacher, sort of a master teacher, and they spend their whole year just watching that master teacher work. And then they also, you know, teach classes over time. So that model seems to work quite well. Now it's costly because you've got two teachers in the classroom, so there's the problem there. But, I mean, it's not really experimenting because there's another master teacher in the classroom.
And there are some colleges of education that are saying yeah, you know what, we need to give them more hands-on experience. Because, typically, how it works now is you don't get your so-called student teaching experience until you're just about ready to graduate from college. And it's in the spring and it's, like, 10 weeks. Well, that's not really enough time to, sort of, figure out how to get a classroom under control. And that's really the hardest thing for first-year teachers. You walk in the door and you don't know how to, you know - you know how to take attendance, but you don't know how to get kids in line. Or you don't know how to, you know, differentiate the kid that's reading at a third-grade level and there's a kid that's reading at a sixth-grade level. How do you deal with that? So I think that there's...
MARTIN: Maybe - maybe not keep the kids in line, maybe keep the kids inspired. Maybe we could put it that way.
BANCHERO: Exactly, exactly.
MARTIN: So before we let you go, though - we have about a minute and a half left - were there programs that got it right? Were there programs that could be role models for other programs that the survey could point to?
BANCHERO: Yeah, well, funny. There aren't that many. They were all - they rated it on zero to four stars and there were only four programs that got four stars. Generally, high school - programs that train high school teachers got higher - got more stars. And that's, generally, because to be a high school teacher, oftentimes, you need more content. You need to know more about math, you need to know more about science. So one thing they say, look, you really need to know math before you go out and teach math. So, you know, the programs that are, basically, giving you more content knowledge did better.
MARTIN: And - but the lower school, elementary school programs, just not very highly regarded.
BANCHERO: Yeah, because, you know, in elementary school it's, sort of, more generalist. You have to, you know - they teach math, reading, science. They teach everything. So it's more a generalist training and you're not, you know, you don't have a specific training in math, for example.
MARTIN: Stephanie, what else did - you've mentioned - we've mentioned that you've been covering this for a long time. I'd love to hear your impressions of this. Were you surprised by this? What did you find most compelling in the - in this report?
BANCHERO: I wasn't - this has been debated for a couple years. And even Arne Duncan and Obama have, sort of, pressed colleges of education to, sort of, you know, transform and do things better. So I wasn't surprised by too much that - except for - I was actually surprised by how many of the - there were 160 schools, or programs, that got zero stars. Basically saying, there's a consumer alert, don't go here. I was surprised by that, that so many - I mean, the average number of stars was somewhere between one and two. And I guess I was surprised by how low they were rated. I thought there'd be more that got higher ratings. I mean, there's several, you know, highly regarded programs out there - University of Michigan, for example, only got two to two and a half stars, and it's a really great program, very highly regarded.
MARTIN: Maybe there's some more to look at there. That was Stephanie Banchero. She's the national education reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We caught up with her in Chicago. Stephanie, thanks much for speaking with us.
BANCHERO: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.