Research has shown that the single most important factor in helping children learn is the quality of their teachers. So it is a big problem when graduates of teacher education programs are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of the classroom. The Obama administration’s move to develop new standards of accountability for teacher preparation programs is a step in the right direction that will help both students and teachers.

The federal Education Department announced recently a proposal that would require states to measure how well colleges and universities are preparing teachers. Criteria for the rating systems, which also would apply to alternative programs such as Teach for America, would include job placement and retention rates of graduates, feedback from new teachers’ employers and the academic performance of their students.

“All educators want to do a great job for their students, but too often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much on the job by themselves,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said as he announced the proposed rules.

Deficiencies in teacher preparation programs have long been the worst-kept secret of American education. A report last month by the National Council on Teacher Quality found education majors able to rack up more A’s than other majors, suggesting a lack of rigor in the programs.

The immediate pushback to Duncan’s announcement from teachers unions and institutions of learning came as no surprise given their record of resisting any and all accountability initiatives. Contrary to claims of overreach by the federal government, the proposal, now subject to public comment, vests with the states the ability to develop appropriate rating systems. States would be given plenty of time to develop systems, since the first report cards won’t be required until April 2019. No state would be forced to participate, but states that don’t would be ineligible for certain federal grants.

The administration has at times been wobbly in following through on promises to bring accountability to education reform, so its perseverance on this critical issue is all the more commendable. As Duncan said, “Nothing in school matters as much as the quality of teaching our students receive.”

Editorial by The Washington Post

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