The research is conclusive: A quality, effective teacher is the most important school-based way to help students learn. That's why the Bush Foundation wisely announced a $40 million grant over the next decade to transform teacher-preparation programs in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
In partnership with 14 colleges and universities, the foundation expects to do no less than transform the education of educators. Why? Because even the institutions' leaders know they must change; some admit that today's educator curriculums haven't changed much in 50 years. As a result, too many teachers are poorly prepared to work with contemporary students.
The Bush Foundation's worthy, ambitious goal is to train thousands of teachers who can guarantee student achievement and produce 50 percent more students who are prepared for post-high school education. This is a good time to overhaul colleges of education because an estimated 25,000 teachers will be needed in the three-state area in the next decade as current educators retire or change jobs.
To deliver on those goals, the colleges will make major changes in how they recruit and train students. And they will place graduates in schools with effective administrators, then provide them with continuing support during their first few years on the job.
In other words, they will no longer simply award degrees, wish them good luck and send them out to their first classrooms. Recruiters will be more selective upfront about who gets into colleges of education, looking not only for top high school students but midcareer professionals as well. Mentors will follow rookie educators into their classrooms to help the new graduates succeed with students.
Of course, instruction is only one of several factors that affect student performance -- family, community and peers have an influence as well. Yet Bush is putting its largest financial allocation ever on teacher training because of its potential for broad, lasting impact on one piece of the equation. Producing thousands of more effective teachers can translate into millions of well-educated kids.