Preparing the Teachers and School Leaders of Tomorrow: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Conference

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Thank you. I want to talk to you today about a paradox that can handcuff efforts at education reform. The paradox is this: Everyone in this hall would agree that great teachers and principals hold the key to America's children getting a first-rate education—nothing is more important. Yet then why is it, as a nation that exalts outstanding teachers, do we continue to do a spotty job of preparing teachers and principals to lead in the classroom and schoolhouse?

Great teachers and passionate principals are absolutely heroes to me and countless students because they change the trajectory of children's lives for the better. They stir curiosity and illuminate the power of learning. I cannot think of a single, vital school reform that is teacher-proof or principal-proof.

As I've often said, talent matters tremendously in the classroom. It's no surprise that the single biggest in-school influence on student academic growth is the quality of the teacher standing in front of the classroom—not socioeconomic status, not family background, but the quality of the teacher at the head of the class.

Yet, in so many respects, the federal government, states, districts, certification agencies, unions, and universities, all regularly act as though talent did not matter tremendously.

In a speech last fall at the Teachers College at Columbia, I noted that education schools have long been treated as the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education. Colleges of education have traditionally been the institution that got no respect—yet still they are described as cash cows for other, more academically-prestigious departments of the university.

Once teachers finish their preparation program, they enter a profession that continues to treat them as something less than highly-skilled professionals. Smart induction policies and well-designed mentoring for new teachers is the exception, rather than the rule. Professional development is generally of poor quality. Pay is based not on your performance in the classroom or your impact on student learning but rather on your credentials and time spent in the job. Performance evaluations of teachers are largely a sham.

So, how do we explain this paradox of on the one hand revering teachers, yet on the other hand, failing to elevate the teaching profession?

I believe part of the answer is that our schools and teacher preparation programs were designed in an earlier industrial age, when schools were thought of as conveyor belts in a factory where students moved from class to class and grade to grade with little differentiation between teachers or principals, and little differentiation of instruction for students.

Take the example of principal preparation programs, which I will talk about in more detail in a minute. Principals were thought of for many decades as building managers and supervisors of operations—and principal preparation programs were designed accordingly. But we now know that the role of the principal has changed dramatically.

Today, the job of a principal is to be an instructional leader, not just a supervisor. Top-flight school leaders are more like CEOs than building managers. They can oversee multimillion dollar budgets and hundreds of employees. They work with community organizations and the media, and are expected to serve as change agents. Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia's Teachers College, wrote in his comprehensive study of leadership preparation programs in 2005 that principals are being "educated for jobs that do not exist any longer."

I'd be the first to admit that the Education Department has often gotten stuck in the past as well. For far too long, we have underinvested in teacher and principal preparation programs. I promise you, that is changing. In the Administration's new budget, we propose to double spending for teacher preparation programs to $235 million, while funding for school leadership preparation programs would increase five-fold, to $170 million. Despite those large increases in funding, I recognize some of your member institutions are concerned about our plans to shift to more competitive streams of funding.

I want to address those concerns in a moment. But before I do, I want to make the case that our teacher and principal preparation programs need transformational change, not tinkering with the status quo.

Three profound shifts—including new realities within schools, the demographics of the teaching force, and an altered American economy—drive the need for transformational change. Business as usual is not an adequate response to these new challenges. As Richard Riley, one of my predecessors, put it, "We can no longer fiddle around the edges of how we recruit, prepare, retain, and reward America's teachers … our colleges of education can no longer be the sleepy backwaters."

The first of these challenges is that students and workers today compete in a global economy for the first time in history. The education that millions of Americans got in the past simply won't do anymore. In the information age, it is impossible to drop out of school and land a good job. Even workers with high school diplomas, but without college degrees, are going to find their opportunities extremely limited in the future.

Education, as President Obama has said, "is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success—it's a prerequisite to success." We are convinced we must educate our way to a better economy.

The second challenge is the civil rights challenge, the imperative to live up to the great American Dream of equal opportunity. Education has always been the great equalizer in America. No matter what your race, national origin, disability, or zip code, every child is entitled to a quality public education. Today, more than ever, we acknowledge America's need—and a public school's obligation—to teach all students to their full potential.

And yet we know that we still have a long way to go to achieve that dream of equal educational opportunity. Nearly 30 percent of our students today drop out or fail to complete high school on time.

Nationwide, researchers have identified 2,000 high schools that have been dubbed dropout factories. These 2,000 high schools produce half of the nation's dropouts, two-thirds of all Hispanic dropouts, and nearly three fourths of black dropouts. That is why education is the civil rights issue of our generation. Our work either builds upon Dr. King's legacy, or lets him down—there is no middle ground.

For years, states and districts have largely ignored chronically low-performing schools, or tried to tinker around the edges of institutions that were in educational meltdown. The lack of outcry, the lack of urgency, and the absence of innovation has frankly been deeply disturbing. But the federal government has a special role to play in protecting the rights of disadvantaged and minority students.

We are no longer willing to gloss over the educational failures of the bottom five percent of the nation's 100,000 schools. We are going to insist on rigorous change in chronically underperforming schools, and the federal government is going to provide generous incentives to implement those changes. But to turn around our lowest-performing schools, we will need a new generation of principals and teachers prepared to take on this difficult challenge, in addition to new support for teachers currently in these schools who are committed and ready to transform the educational opportunities of their students.

The third and final challenge is demographic. A massive exodus of Baby Boomers from the teaching force in the next decade is going to drive demand for more and better teachers. We currently have about 3.2 million teachers. But more than half of all teachers and principals are Baby Boomers.

During the next three to five years, we could lose a third of veteran teachers and school leaders to retirement. The challenge to our schools is not just a looming teacher shortage, but rather a shortage of great teachers in the schools and communities where they are needed the most, and that have been historically underserved.

As you know, high-poverty, high-needs schools still struggle to attract and retain good teachers. Teacher openings in science and math are often hard to fill with effective instructors. Students with disabilities and English language learners are still underserved. Rural classrooms are facing shortages as well—and we have far too few teachers of color. Only two percent, one in 50 teachers today are African-American males. Something is fundamentally wrong with that picture.

These problems are not self-correcting. They must be tackled by everyone, head-on, including colleges of education. At the same time, it is no secret to any of you that the bar has been raised for successful teacher preparation programs.

We ask much more of teachers today than even a decade ago. Teachers are now asked to achieve significant academic growth for all students, yet instruct students with ever-more diverse needs.

Teaching has never been more difficult, it has never been more important—and the need for student success has never been so urgent. I am convinced that our ability to attract, and more importantly, retain, great talent over the next five years will shape public education for the next thirty years. It is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

In my talk last fall at the Teachers College at Columbia I called for a sea-change in our schools of education. I challenged schools of education for failing to teach aspiring teachers how to use data to differentiate and improve instruction, and boost student learning. Great teacher after great teacher I've talked with around the country told me that they learned those skills on the job, not in school.

I criticized some ed schools for a lack of rigorous and relevant research, and for failing to provide sufficient high-quality, hands-on practical training about managing the classroom, especially for high-needs students. And I said that colleges of education had to do a much better job of gathering data on the effectiveness of their graduates in the classroom and their impact on student achievement. At present, most colleges of education know little to nothing about the impact of their graduates on student learning.

Many of the issues that I raised about education schools have been raised repeatedly by others—including deans of the colleges of education. I know what hundreds of deans across the country are striving to do, to take their schools to another level.

In fact, all too often universities, states, and the federal government have all impeded reform in a variety of ways.

It takes a university to prepare a teacher. The arts and sciences faculty play an essential role in strengthening the content knowledge of aspiring teachers and developing a rigorous, scientifically-based curriculum in how to best teach math and science. Yet we know that schools of education are too often money-makers for other branches of the university. Many college presidents and provosts are reluctant to invest in well-run clinical programs and rigorous education research.

States and districts are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness. And as I said earlier, the Department of Education has, unfortunately, historically underinvested in quality teacher and principal preparation programs.

Despite the concerns I raised, I was then—and am now—highly optimistic about the prospects for reform. The seeds of change are taking hold due to visionary leadership.

I cited numerous examples of ed schools that run exemplary clinical programs for pre-service teachers, including Emporia State University in Kansas, Alverno College in Milwaukee, and Hunter College in New York City.

I am also encouraged by the fact that, under the wonderful leadership of Dr. Robinson, the AACTE has made it a core mission to have pre-service education lead to substantial increases in student achievement. In fact, AACTE has launched a series of new programs and initiatives to improve teacher effectiveness.

One of the most promising initiatives is the development of the first nationally accessible, performance-based assessment of teacher candidate readiness, pioneered by Linda Darling-Hammond (who is here today) and a consortium of teacher preparation programs in California.

Already, 20 states have signed up to pilot the performance assessment.

At the time of my speech last fall at Teachers College, just one state, Louisiana, monitored the impact of in-state teacher preparation programs on student performance and growth. Louisiana is tracking student growth in math, English, reading, science, and social studies for hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers.

As a result, the state is able to identify effective and ineffective programs for the first time. And university-based teacher education programs, like the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, are using the outcomes data to revamp and strengthen their programs. That is real change—based upon real outcomes for children. Schools of education improve, their graduates enter the teaching profession better prepared, and schoolchildren learn more. Isn't that what we all want?

I am pleased to see that Florida and Texas have now also moved toward tracking the impact of teacher preparation programs on student growth, along with several other states that are exploring Louisiana's program.

In our budget, as I mentioned earlier, we'll be doubling funding for teacher preparation programs and providing a five-fold increase for leadership and principal preparation programs. But I know those increases are not big enough to insulate Higher Education institutions from looming state and local budget cutbacks. It is going to be a tough year in many postsecondary institutions—and those difficult decisions looming ahead are no fun for any of us.

I do believe, though, that in obstacles lie opportunity. As Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff has said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Now is the moment to rethink policies that are not serving the best interests of aspiring teachers or children.

Change, of course, is difficult. If it was easy to change, the status quo wouldn't persist for so long. And even though our department is planning to dramatically boost federal funding for teacher preparation and principal preparation programs, I appreciate that shifting toward competitive funding with multiple players can create legitimate concerns.

Let me tell you why we have proposed this shift. To put it in the simplest terms, we believe teacher preparation programs should be focused on results.

I'm talking about program outcomes such as how well graduates accelerate student performance in the classroom, the extent to which program graduates teach in high need schools and shortage areas, and whether program graduates stay in the teaching profession.

Under our budget proposal, teacher and principal preparation grants can go to school districts, states, and IHEs and non-profits partnering with LEAs and SEAs, to create or expand effective teacher preparation programs—especially in high-need schools, subjects, or areas. Grants will be made to both traditional and alternative certification providers, just as they have in the past.

Successful applicants will demonstrate a real record of results in preparing teachers to succeed, or present a strong plan to commit to tracking the results of their graduates. Funding what works is the right thing to do for children, and is in the best interests of teacher preparation programs as well.

I want to close by challenging you to also rethink your principal preparation programs. These programs have received surprisingly little attention in the national debate about school reform.

I say surprisingly, because the importance of great principals should be self-evident. I have yet to find a high-performing school that didn't have a visionary principal at its helm.

It is the principal who is responsible for building a school culture focused on learning and high expectations. It is the principal who must hire good instructors, provide quality professional development, evaluate teachers, and serve as the school's instructional leader. Great principals nurture, retain, and empower great teachers—bad principals run them off.

It is not easy being a principal today—and all these hats become even more difficult to wear when principals are asked to serve in turnaround schools mired in low expectations and high rates of dysfunction.

Now, nearly 90 percent of principals take courses at education schools, mostly in educational administration or leadership. Colleges of education run more than 600 leadership programs, which produce over 15,000 master's degrees in educational administration, according to Arthur Levine's 2005 study. But the record of these programs is poor—and it has been widely criticized by both education deans and those outside academia.

In 1987, the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration, which included both then-governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton and education school deans, issued a report that concluded 60 percent of the nation's principal preparation programs were so subpar that they should be shut down. Yet throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as Linda Darling-Hammond has noted, the "significant role of the principal in creating the conditions for improved student outcomes was largely ignored."

In the last decade, a spate of reports from the National Staff Development Council, the Southern Regional Education Board, the RAND Corporation, the Institute for Educational Leadership, and the Levine report have all renewed concerns about the quality of principal preparation programs. The Levine study concluded that the majority of leadership preparation programs "range from inadequate to appalling, even at some of the country's leading universities."

Many principals, it turns out, are not pleased with their training either. In one poll by Public Agenda, nearly 70 percent of principals reported that traditional leadership programs were "out of touch with the realities of what it takes to run today's schools."

The findings of these various reports are remarkably consistent. Admission standards are low, and most leadership preparation programs accept almost everyone who applies. Many students who enroll do not actually plan to become principals, but want to get their master's degree to boost their teaching salary.

The majority of programs provide inadequate clinical training and mentorship by successful school leaders. And the curriculum has a limited connection to the real-world needs of principals.

One 2007 review of the course syllabi of 56 principal preparation programs by Frederick Hess and Andrew Kelly found that just two percent of the more than 2,400 course weeks "addressed accountability in the context of school management or school improvement … less than five percent included instruction on managing school improvement via data."

Worst of all, there is absolutely no tie back between traditional school leadership programs and boosting student achievement. The Levine study found that "the body of research in educational administration cannot answer questions as basic as whether school leadership programs have any impact on student achievement in the schools that graduates of these programs lead."

Now, again, it is far too easy to just challenge colleges of education for the mediocrity of most principal preparation programs. States, districts, and universities are all deeply implicated in second-rate programs.

State licensure requirements for principals typically hinge on the number of courses taken and previous experience as a teacher, and have no link to performance as a school leader.

All states, and almost all districts, also award salary raises to teachers who earn advanced degrees, ratcheting up demand for leadership preparation classes. But since many teachers who enroll don't really aspire to become principals, universities feel pressured to reduce both rigor and tuition costs to attract more students. The result is a classic race to the bottom.

Despite the generally poor quality of principal preparation programs, I see many signs that states and universities are starting to rethink their leadership initiatives.

The University of Virginia has established a School Turnaround Specialist Program. As we seek to turnaround the nation's bottom one percent of schools each year—the thousand lowest-performing schools—the demand for turnaround specialists is going to continue to expand. There is real opportunity for you here.

Stanford, which offers a two-year joint M.B.A. and M.A. in education, has added a nine-month program to provide more coursework in business and school policy. In August, Harvard's Graduate School of Education will open a tuition-free three-year doctoral program in educational leadership, its first new degree in 74 years. Other schools, such as Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, Bank Street College, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, have run exemplary programs for years.

I want to be clear that it doesn't take an elite university to create a fantastic principal preparation program. Delta State University in Mississippi, and the University of San Diego's Educational Leadership Development Academy, have also been singled out as top-notch programs.

States are stepping in to set up and support principal preparation programs as well. The Connecticut Administrator Test requires principal candidates to map out school improvements and respond to concrete school-wide problems based on school and community profiles and data about student learning. Twenty percent of candidates fail that simulated but rigorous real-world test.

In North Carolina, the Principal Fellows Program provides an annual scholarship loan of $20,000 for two years of study, the second year of which candidates spend in a supervised full-time administrative internship in a public school. Fellows repay the scholarship loan with four years of service as a principal or assistant principal at a public school. Since the program began in 1994, more than 800 scholarship loans have been awarded. One out of eight practicing principals and assistant principals in the state are now program graduates.

Mississippi took a different tack in the late 1990s. It shut down all of its university-administered preparation programs and made them re-apply for accreditation. Mississippi then required at least 80 percent of a program's graduates to pass the state administrator test in the three years preceding the re-accreditation process. Initially, every program failed to meet the 80 percent pass rate. But that forced an overhaul of the university-based programs, strengthening the principal pipeline statewide.

Finally, we are also seeing a new generation of promising alternative providers for principal preparation programs in New Leaders for New Schools, KIPP's Fisher Fellows program, and the New York City Leadership Academy. These programs are demonstrating the importance not only of high-quality principal preparation. Just as importantly, they show the ability to link training to student achievement, especially among disadvantaged students. Successful programs are fostering an ethic of continuous improvement for aspiring principals and students alike.

I sometimes hear it said that great teachers are unsung heroes and the principalship is a thankless job. But teaching and school leadership are among the few professions that are not just a job or even an adventure—they are a calling. Great teachers and outstanding principals strive to help every student unlock their potential and develop the habits of mind that will serve them for a lifetime. They believe that every student has a gift—even when students doubt themselves.

Henry Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity—he can never tell where his influence stops." That is a weighty responsibility but also an amazing privilege.

I thank you for all you have done, and will do, to train the next generation of teachers and school leaders. Your commitment to developing the next generation of talent, I'm convinced, will not just change our students' lives forever, but over the long term will ensure that America will once again lead the world in college graduates. I can't think of a more noble, or more important, battle to fight together. Thank you.