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'No Child Left Behind' Holds Potential for Teacher Improvement


February 10, 2004
Tuesday - 1:10 am

"No Child Left Behind," the federal education reform act implemented two years ago, warrants broader support among universities for its push to strengthen teacher quality, according to a position paper by The Renaissance Group.

The Renaissance Group (TRG), located at Emporia State University in Kansas, is a consortium of 35 universities that share a commitment to preparing educational professionals. One in every ten new teachers in America was educated on a TRG campus.

"In essence, Renaissance Group members support much of what is found in federal legislation calling for reform and look forward with optimism toward continued improvements, not with pessimism or reluctance," the report states.

The December 2003 report was authored by Jack Miller, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and president of the TRG Board of Directors. Miller noted that the Act is under intense criticism over what are considered overzealous federal controls, unrealistic goals and unfunded mandates. The election-year debate is heating up over the future of the legislation. Beyond the controversy, however, Miller said the legislation does hold promise when it comes to improving the ability and qualifications of classroom teachers.

Teacher educators, who by and large have been critical of the legislation, do themselves no favors by stubbornly defending the status quo, Miller said. "It is clear that teacher development efforts have not been adequate to meet the ever-rising demands of all the children of our country, particularly those in greatest need," he said.

One controversial aspect of "No Child Left Behind" has been its expanded definition of a "highly qualified teacher," which includes a teaching credential, a bachelor's degree and a major or demonstrated competency in any subject taught. The legislation encourages more alternative programs and multiple curricula.

That competition should be welcomed, Miller said, especially in light of teacher shortages nationally, as long as all programs are held to high standards.

"Some teacher preparation programs are so set on a certain methodology and sequence of courses that their proponents are not willing to look flexibly at people who come from different backgrounds," the report states. "This is particularly vexing when the point of view is based more on defending curricular turf than on demonstrated effectiveness."

Miller said that quality programs have nothing to fear in the legislation, provided that performance assessments are based on sound scientific research and reflect the complexity of institutional goals. For example, a small liberal arts college that enrolls only students in the top 10 percent of high schools must be viewed differently from a large public university with goals of access and diversity. Programs should be measured in context with their missions and demographics, he said.

Other positions taken in the paper include:

  • TRG universities should be prepared to focus more on outcomes rather than process variables as the gold standard in educational assessment. "Often accreditors focus on process - looking at what is taught, who is teaching it, how diverse their students are, and how many dollars are spent instead of focusing on true measures of excellence, such as the content knowledge and applications of effective teaching practices by program graduates."
  • Partnerships between teacher preparation programs and local school districts should be strengthened and programs altered based on feedback at the local level. The federal legislation allows greater funding flexibility at the local level and channels a greater percentage of federal money directly to school districts. "TRG member institutions with strong partnerships avail themselves and their partners of such federal support."

Miller said he believes the position paper is important at a time when "No Child Left Behind" appears to have widened the gulf between teacher education programs and their opponents. The paper offers ways to get beyond the entrenched defensiveness of higher education.

"(Our) members recognize that there is no need to apologize for, nor to defend, existing teacher education programs," the report reads. "They were built upon good intentions and responsiveness to trends in external demands, as well as professional judgment."

Two decades ago, the landmark "A Nation at Risk" federal legislation pushed programs to provide more liberal arts and science content, required test scores for program admission and upped admission requirements. The new legislation may produce new benchmarks for improving quality teaching in America's classrooms.


Source of News Release:

The Renaissance Group (TRG)
Web Site


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