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Education schools need faculty with ongoing real-world experience

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Out of public office and safely ensconced in a Washington, D.C., think tank, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently blasted schools of education for weak academic standards and related failures to turn out classroom-ready teachers. Unfortunately, his critique fails to address the most fundamental flaw in how we educate teachers: The core faculty working with the teachers-to-be have either never taught in a public school or have not done so in decades.

Deans of education point to adjunct faculty as the bridge between professional preparation and practice, but in all too many instances (including my own experience as a doctoral student), adjuncts often tell "war stories" with weak or non-existent academic content, while having no role in determining course offerings, curriculum requirements, standards and assessment, and academic policies, including graduation requirements.

A more effective model would be that of my ophthalmologist, who, as a core clinical faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, teaches future doctors, supervises residents, and treats patients (while a separate faculty engages in research full-time). Applied to education, the core clinical faculty role would consist of teaching certification candidates, supervising student teachers and rookie practitioners, and most important, spending a full year every three or four years serving as a co-teacher or co-principal in a public school.

Several prestigious fellowship programs require core faculty to have recent teaching experience, but for the most part, our colleges of education, which turn out the overwhelming majority of certified teachers and principals, lack faculty with the real world experience of public school teaching and leadership that would drastically alter the "school readiness" of their graduates.

Until that transformation occurs, our colleges of education will continue to turn out thousands of teachers who will depend on their employer school districts to provide during staff-development sessions what they could and should have received in their certification programs. Taxpayers, K-12 students, and future educators and school leaders deserve better – soon.

Debra Weiner staffed the University Teacher Education Partners meetings when she worked as a consultant at the School District of Philadelphia under former Superintendent Paul Vallas.

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