There has been a mantra of sorts going around education circles over the past few years: “Nothing matters more to a child’s education than good teachers.” Anyone who’s ever had a Ms. Green or a Mr. Miller whom they remember fondly instinctively knows this to be true. And while “Who’s teaching my kid?” is an important question for parents to ask, there may be an equally essential (and rarely remarked upon) question — “Who’s teaching my kid’s teachers?”
On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went to Columbia University’s Teachers College, the oldest teacher-training school in the nation, and delivered a speech blasting the education schools that have trained the majority of the 3.2 million teachers working in U.S. public schools today. “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom,” he said to an audience of teaching students who listened with more curiosity than ire — this was Columbia University after all, and they knew Duncan wasn’t talking to them. It was a damning, but not unprecedented, assessment of teacher colleges, which have long been the stepchildren of the American university system and a frequent target of education reformers’ scorn over the past quarter-century.