Proposed education reform encourages higher selectivity

President Barack Obama’s administration has put forth a budget proposal that includes a $5 billion grant competition that would reward states and districts for improving teacher effectiveness, including increasing selectivity in teacher education programs.

The United States Department of Education has yet to reveal much information about the proposal, titled the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Project, which considers a broad range of reforms. Aside from increasing selectivity in college teaching programs, the program includes encouraging higher teacher salaries, merit pay, compensation for working in challenging learning environments and emphasis on classroom effectiveness.

The administration will develop the details of the program through budget negotiations with Congress and through the competition process itself.

James Garofalo, interim dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education at Geneseo, said that the school is already selective in terms of admission standards for teaching candidates. Currently the school requires incoming students to have a 3.0 grade point average and to complete 25 hours of service learning experience prior to admittance. Garofalo said, however, that grade point average is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how well a person can teach.

“If you’re just looking at grade point averages, that’s one indicator of scholarly skill [and] probably an indicator of how well you can take tests, but it [isn’t] necessarily … the measure of how you relate to other human beings or how you relate to children – or young adults if you’re working at the secondary level,” he said.

About 800 students are currently enrolled in the School of Education, which is divided into elementary education and adolescent education programs.

According to Garofalo, it is important that teaching candidates learn to work and connect with students at a wide range of skill levels and backgrounds. He discussed the differences between high schools that prepare students for different career paths according to their socioeconomic backgrounds, saying that while poorer schools will often prepare their students for “factory” jobs and other blue-collar careers, other schools prepare their students to take on higher-level positions in the future. 

“Your schools of education [has] to prepare teachers for the population that they want to work with,” he said.

Although Garofalo said he is unsure that Obama and the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan fully understand the issues at stake in education, he said he feels that the teachers he has met over his career “really do understand how to work with kids.”

“I haven’t seen the full legislation … I don’t know exactly what you’d have to do in order to tap into the money the president has, but I feel that the students we’re admitting right now at Geneseo and to the School of Education are really very, very capable people,” he said.

According to Garofalo, Geneseo School of Education graduates are well received when they begin their teaching careers.

“We often hear back from the school districts, ‘Please send us more of your candidates when they complete [certification],’” he said.