U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. visited USC’s Rossier School of Education Wednesday to discuss issues facing the nation’s education system, such as inadequate teacher preparation and lack of diversity,
The roundtable discussion also included Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of the Rossier School of Education, Ted Mitchell, under secretary of education and multiple Los Angeles Unified School District teachers.
The roundtable began with panelists pointing out holes in a federal education bill passed by the Senate on Dec. 9 2015, which gave significant power to states and local districts. While the legislation’s goal was to increase innovation by allowing the local governments to pinpoint issues within their community, many believe that state governments are still not doing enough. For example, King explained that the teachers are often not adequately prepared for the challenges associated with diverse classrooms.
“Historically, information collected with teacher preparation programs has been at a surface level,” King said. “We haven’t necessarily gotten the information that teacher preparation programs need for continuous improvement.”
Several teachers explained that the main difficulties stem from a broken system of supply and demand. Educators often want to teach in “easier,” or more appealing settings, as they do not have a strong support system or safety net after completing training.
As a result, public school systems end up lacking teachers willing to teach STEM and higher-level courses, and have an overabundance of teachers willing to teach first through fifth grade.
Teachers are also less willing to teach in low-income neighborhoods, leading to a deficit of teachers in areas like downtown Los Angeles.
“We have significant equity gaps around access to effective teachers,” King said. “Too often, it’s our low income students and students of color, our English learners who have the least access to effective teachers even though they need that the most.”
Mitchell said that the Department of Education planned this trip to Los Angeles because California is the most populated state in the country, and he hopes that understanding California’s educational system will help the federal government be more responsive to educational needs in different states.
“We are in California because one in 10 teachers in America teach in the state of the California, so getting it right is a big deal,” Mitchell said. “Not only because of the numbers, but also because America is always being invented day in and day out in the state of California, whether that’s technology, demographics or cultural expression.”
Gallagher said that the Department of Education hopes to further use technology to collect data that will support teachers. She emphasized that data is important because it starts conversations, and when it is sent back to states, governmental organizations are able to be more responsive to state educational needs.
“We need to have principals. We need to have current teachers working with us so that we get feedback on our students and graduates,” Gallagher said. “And that’s where the data piece is so important. LAUSD and USC have data about the effectiveness of our graduates, and we know what they see we need to do more. Data is a way to start that conversation.”