Neag School Receives Acclaim
For Teacher Education Program
By Janice Palmer
The Neag School of Education is receiving national recognition for producing high quality teachers who stay in the field far longer than many of their U.S. colleagues.
The National Commission for Teaching and America's Future, a nonpartisan group of the country's leaders in education, government, and business, has determined that it is not a teacher shortage crisis that is facing school districts across the country, but instead, a severe teacher retention problem.
In its report, No Dream Denied, the Commission points to the Neag School's five-year Integrated Bachelor's/Master's program as an example of a teacher preparation program that "well prepares graduates who are more likely to stick with teaching and contribute to the development of a strong professional learning community in the schools they serve."
Almost a third of all new teachers leave the classroom after three years, according to the Commission's in-depth study, but a resounding 90 percent of Neag graduates remain dedicated to their profession.
"When you look at the numbers five years out, the gap grows even larger," says Richard Schwab, dean. He has been a member of the Commission since June 2001 and is one of just two deans from schools of education serving on the board.
Schwab says the success of the program is due not only to the faculty of the Neag School of Education, but also to faculty of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who provide the students with solid preparation in content areas, and to the teachers and practitioners in the professional development schools - selected public schools that partner with the School of Education - who work closely with the students.
The 28-member commission first received acclaim in 1996 for its landmark report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. That report called attention to the need for making teacher quality a priority on the national agenda, and created a blueprint for policy reforms. Now in its mid-term progress report, the Commission is calling for a national effort to improve teacher retention by at least 50 percent by 2006.
Each year, more than a quarter-million people leave the teaching profession; of these, retirees account for less than a third. The high rate of turnover and attrition are being blamed on low pay and a number of adverse working conditions. Among the factors driving teachers out of the field are inadequate preparation time, lack of student discipline and administrative support, and poorly motivated students.
To improve the retention rate, the Commission has made some three dozen recommendations. They include better organization of schools; upgrading the appeal of teaching through mentoring from colleagues; establishing pay incentives to reward teachers for improving their practice; and increasing the rigor of teacher preparation programs and standards.
"We know that a good education starts with high quality teaching, and preparing effective teachers is a key component," says Schwab.
The Neag School of Education is highly competitive. Prospective students must meet rigorous requirements before being accepted into the program. All students are required to have an academic major, which is not common among teacher preparation programs, particularly for elementary education. And they undergo extensive clinical experiences, spending six semesters in a variety of school settings, with a multiplicity of age groups and abilities. This includes urban and suburban environments, as well as a special education classroom.
Graduates of the Neag School are highly sought after. Every one of them leaves UConn with a job; 90 percent stay in Connecticut; and about a third take jobs in the state's most challenging school districts, "making this program a good value for Connecticut," says Schwab.
The next step for the Commission is to work with its partner organizations in 20 states to implement its recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels.