Are teacher prep programs worth the money?

We’re doing a terrible job of training teachers -- and that training is expensive.

The National Council on Teacher Quality released a big report on the state of teacher prep in June. It’s verdict? Less than 10 percent of the programs it rated earn three stars or more when it comes to training teachers. And future teachers are spending an average of $116,000 to obtain their degrees.

The study is a 113-page report card of failure. One example -- fewer than one in nine programs are preparing elementary teachers for the newest state standards.

Kate Walsh, president of The National Council of Teacher Quality, says one of the biggest problems is programs instructing would-be teachers to base their future curriculum on personal philosophy. These programs do not emphasize teaching methonds based on known research and best practices.

“It’s almost like we were asking doctors to enter the operating room and come up with their own methods for the best appendectomy,” she says.

Steve Rivkin, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says the results of the report are not surprising. There is a long running debate over whether traditional teaching degrees make better teachers.

“There’s not rigorous evidence that those who’ve taken the traditional route, out perform those who don’t,” he says.

Rivkin notes, there’s nothing like being in a classroom to learn to teach. He says working teachers who get feedback on the job are known to improve.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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