The New York Times and others regularly implore us to raise the quality of teacher education. This essay explores why it is so difficult to do so, particularly at the urban, public institutions that produce many of our nation's teachers. It describes one such attempt to raise standards in writing. I document the process of building a new writing assessment program, including a writing assessment exam and a remediation program. I discuss our rubric and scoring procedures, samples of student work, and the poor score trends for our exam. I describe the difficulties in working without adequate resources, and I examine the ways in which our program posed a threat to the economics of the university. I conclude that efforts to raise program quality and produce higher-quality graduates are unlikely to succeed without fundamental changes to the economy of education generally and teacher education in particular.

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