Much of the excellence in American medicine dates to a groundbreaking 1910 study that stimulated medical schools to reshape how doctors were trained.
Teacher preparation today needs a similar push; the weakness of education schools is one of the reasons that many schools are struggling and why America lost its pre-eminent spot in the world for education.
A new report may move things in a better direction. The study, released Tuesday by the advocacy group National Council on Teacher Quality, concludes that the overwhelming majority of teacher education programs at the nation's colleges and universities do not adequately prepare teachers with either classroom management skills or content knowledge.
"Mediocrity" is the description used by the Teacher Prep Review in detailing low admission standards and inadequate student teaching experiences. Education programs routinely ignore the best research on effective teaching. Of 1,200 programs at 608 institutions rated, only four merited top ratings. The ratings appear in U.S. News and World Report.
The council's methodology was developed over eight years, relying on a review of course descriptions, syllabuses, student-teacher observation instruments and other materials. It came under immediate attack as incomplete and inaccurate from institutions of higher education. Such criticism is rich considering that many of these same institutions fought tooth and nail to keep materials from researchers.
"Tremendously uncooperative" is how Kate Walsh, president of the council, described many institutions, which refused to share textbooks or course descriptions.
The council had to file open-records requests; many private institutions that are not subject to Freedom of Information requirements opted out. What were they trying to hide?
The council deserves credit for persevering. Rating the best and worst on a four-star scale may be, as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sniffed, a "gimmick." But the prospect of an annual listing may keep attention focused on the issue and encourage schools to improve.
Weakness in how America prepares its teachers has long been one of the worst-kept secrets in education. Programs and standards vary wildly, prospective students have no way to compare schools and few professionals have been willing to challenge the entrenched interests.
Those who believe as we do that teachers should be viewed and treated as professionals should welcome a study that might help them get the training demanded by the hard jobs they do.