Institutions responsible for training and certifying teachers need to tighten their standards and reduce the number of aspiring instructors they admit to make sure that they have the resources to train them properly, said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad during a town hall meeting. As Branstad discussed various education-related issues facing the state, he said that making sure only exceptional candidates make it past the teacher training program is the first step to improving the general quality of instruction in Iowa schools.
Branstad suggested that teacher prep schools consider adding a practicum requirement for teachers in training similar to the residency requirement for medical school students, writes Des Moines Register's Mary Stegmeir. He noted that the priority for most of these schools seems to be money rather than the quality of graduates they produce.
"They use that (teacher preparation program) as a cash cow, and are not really providing the best level of training and education."
Branstad noted that members of Arizona State University's education program spend a full academic year student-teaching — more than double the amount of time clocked by prospective educators in Iowa.
Making a year-long practicum a requirement has been discussed before by the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force, but this is the first time Branstad came out openly in support of the policy. Previously, his remarks on teacher quality have been limited to the overhaul of the tenure system and the introduction of merit pay.
The West Des Moines town hall was the 13th in a series of education-related meetings held around the state since late August.
Details of the governor's teacher leadership plan won't be revealed until late 2012 or early 2013, but a draft released last fall called for a tiered career ladder. Educators would be divided into four categories — apprentice, career, mentor and master — with duties and pay differing at each level.
The quality of Iowa students compared to those in the rest of the country appears to have fallen in the past two decades. In the mid-90s the state's students ranked near the top compared to their peers from other states, but this decade they've tested no better than average.
Although few would disagree that improving the quality of teachers will aid student achievement, some are criticizing Branstad for ignoring other problems that contribute to academic outcomes — like the growing number students who come from low-income families.
"We have kids that come to school that don't know how to hold a pencil, or can't count past one," she said. "That's huge."
Schools also often lack the resources they need to provide supports for their changing student populations, said Tom Narak, government relations director for School Administrators of Iowa.