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Day: February 4, 2016

Teach teachers better than we are now

Governor Kate Brown informs us she will appoint an “education innovation officer.”   This appointee will have no clout but will have the backing of the two state-level education agencies and must possess ears the size of an elephant as this gubernatorial appointee will have as an assignment to listen to the state’s school district officials and members of the communities they serve.

It’s hard to imagine what, if anything of substance or consequence, will become of this; that is, whether it’s just another Kitzhaber-like boondoggle. First and foremost, to make any real difference this time around, the state would have to make drastic changes to the way teachers are prepared to teach. The way things are done now, in our teacher-training institutions, each aspiring wannabe must matriculate a four-year collection of often disjointed subject- matter courses. The four-year stint is then followed by a year’s time invested in education courses.

Unfortunate to the outcome, most of the fifth college year, that also earns a Masters degree, is simply more course work taught by professors who usually have not been in a grades K-12 classroom for years. Only during the last two months of the fifth year, the graduate works with a classroom teacher—who volunteers to serve in this capacity—although they may or may not be an effective teacher. Further, that teacher is too often not supervised in the endeavor.  Soon, the “graduate” is teaching on their own with minimal training to know how to succeed, except mainly by instinct.

If Governor Brown wants to make a difference to the quality of education in this state, she’d change the preparation of teachers.  Under a new order of things, public colleges and universities in the state would no longer offer fifth-year teacher preparation courses; rather, these public colleges would serve strictly as clearinghouses and readiness assessors.  This role would have them work with school districts to find highly qualified teachers to serve as mentors to those who want to become a teacher.  After a year’s time with a veteran teacher in a classroom setting, the novice would be assessed by a team of  qualified professionals hired from the ranks of recognized-as-outstanding teachers who wish to work at designing and implementing assessment tools to determine whether a novice is ready for a classroom of their own.

As for a state innovation officer going out to talk to superintendents and other school management types, among the teachers and townsfolk they may talk to, the highest school officers are typically entrenched traditionalists who will say and do whatever needs to be said and shown to maintain the status quo and their positions.  To really get at what needs to change to deliver education at the most effective level, a state officer must be interested in seeing to it that change is taking place from efforts to better prepare our teachers for classroom dynamics and learning leadership.

This effort to improve public education in Oregon is going to have to receive the time and attention in many more ways than the laissez faire treatment the likes of which our former governor paid to his education reforms. If changes come to pass then we’ve got a wholesale sweeping away of what’s been done to a wholly new way of doing things. Many people in the state must be involved, not just a handful of big-time campaign contributors with no education experience. The training of school administrators at all levels must accompany any reform of classroom teacher training changes as those folks now are too typically a combination ambitious politician and total autocrat.

Since World War II, the U.S. has fallen behind many other developed nations  One of the top reasons is the way we train our teachers and administrators.  If only our politicians would back off from their winless ways of trying to reform education and get those people directly involved with it: Those teachers who have the experience and know how to produce successful results.

When people do again what’s always been done then it’s called futility.  Unless Governor Kate Brown does a lot more than what she’s planning to do via a state innovation officer, we’ll be at the same place a year or two from now when failure again is the expensive outcome and few if any educational improvements are made available to our kids.

(Gene H. McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)