NASHVILLE — As Tennessee education officials begin training teachers on how to implement a new set of common core benchmarks for math and reading, they acknowledge more work is needed following the release of a national education report Tuesday that heavily criticizes teacher-training programs.
More than 30,000 teachers from across the state have signed up to be trained over the next six weeks, according to Education Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier. Sessions began Tuesday in 17 districts statewide, including Lincoln County.
The common core standards, which 45 states and the District of Columbia are adopting, are described as a set of higher expectations in math and English that include more critical thinking and problem solving to help better prepare students for global competition.
The report by the National Council on Teacher Quality said the nation’s teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom.
In particular, “fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new common core state standards,” the report said.
Gauthier said the report is not surprising and acknowledged there’s “more work to do in terms of preparing teachers to be in front of the classroom.”
“Teachers have a huge responsibility, and it is important for us to make sure that we equip them with the skills they need to help kids succeed,” she said.
Sharon Cooksey, a specialist for curriculum and professional development for the Franklin special school district, coordinated the common core training session at Freedom Middle School on Tuesday.
She too acknowledged improvements are needed in preparing teachers for the classroom, but she said in her area, at least, more colleges and universities have begun to partner with K-12 educators.
“For instance, on the leadership council we have some standing members that are in the college and university area,” she said. “They want their teachers to be prepared. They realize that there’re many new things coming down the pike and they have to be on board with that.”
Out of the more than 1,000 teacher-training programs surveyed, Vanderbilt University and Lipscomb University were among only four programs that received the report’s top-rating of four stars.
“We are pleased that our teacher preparation programs have received this positive recognition, and believe it is a testament to the outstanding work done by our faculty and our students,” said Camilla Benbow, the Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.
Candice McQueen, dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb, said the program’s high rating is partly a result of its clinical placement of students, which she said helps them get a jump start on learning.
She said that students not only absorb the course content, but connect it to “getting out and trying it and practicing it in the real world very early on, well before they get to student teaching.”
Some programs made the report’s so-called honor roll by earning 3 or 3.5 stars, like the University of Kentucky’s undergrad program, which is chaired by Margaret Rintamaa.
She said the program also seeks to give students a real-world feel by placing them out in the field as soon as they enter the program.
“So that first fall they have courses offered by university faculty embedded in local middle school,” Rintamaa said. “They spend the morning with those faculty members in course work, and then they spend the afternoon placed in classrooms with teachers working with middle school students. So they are learning in the morning, and then they’re getting a chance to apply that right that afternoon.”
Program graduate Nikki Wiencek, 22, said the early experience in the classroom and the accessibility of effective teachers have prepared her for her first job as a middle school teacher.
“We have really good method courses that help us prepare and teach us how to teach,” she said. “And these are from former teachers who have experience. They have all these stories, and it’s a great opportunity to hear and learn from all of them.”
—By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II, Associated Press