Spotlight Q&A: Arthur Levine On Raising The Bar For New Teachers

By John Mooney
Renowned critic of traditional teacher-education programs talks about theory versus practice and how to raise the standards for education schools.

Arthur Levine has never been shy about expressing his views on teacher education, and specifically what he thinks isn’t working. The former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Levine has been a leading critic of traditional teacher programs in colleges and universities for having too low standards and inadequate results. His 2006 “Educating School Teachers” is among his most noted works.

Arthur Levine
Arthur Levine

Since, 2006, he has been president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, a Princeton-based organization that is helping to train math and science teachers for high-poverty schools in four states, including New Jersey. Among his many roles, Levine is also on the board of Relay Graduate School of Education, a new teacher education program recently approved for New Jersey.

As New Jersey politicians and policy makers consider proposals to raise standards for New Jersey’s own teacher programs, NJ Spotlight’s John Mooney sat down with Levine in his Princeton office this week to talk about the state of teacher education in New Jersey and nationwide, his suggestions for reforms, and his models for success.

Q: Speak to the state of teacher education and preparation in New Jersey and nationwide.

A: The problems of teacher education are the same all over the country. Education schools tend to be low in selectivity, more so for elementary education programs than for high school. Second, there is very little connection between universities and the schools, a large gap between theory and practice. And third, the curriculum doesn’t make a lot of sense.

We can’t figure out if it is a profession or a craft. If it is a profession like medicine, you need a lot of education before you enter the classroom, but if a craft, then the amount of education is less and there’s much more learning on the job. We can’t decide which one of those things is true right now.

In many respects, teacher education is the Dodge City of American education.

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