Academic journal article Education Next

Rating Teacher-Preparation Programs: Can Value-Added Make Useful Distinctions?

Academic journal article Education Next

Rating Teacher-Preparation Programs: Can Value-Added Make Useful Distinctions?

Article excerpt

RECENT POLICIES intended to improve teacher quality have focused on the preparation that teachers receive before entering the classroom. A short-lived federal rule would have required every state to assess and rank teacher-preparation programs by their graduates' impact on student learning. Though the federal rule was repealed, last year some 21 states and the District of Columbia opted to rank teacher-preparation programs by measures of their graduates' effectiveness in the classroom, such as their value-added scores.

But what does the research say? Do teachers from different preparation programs differ substantially in their impacts? Can outcomes like student test performance reliably identify more or less effective teacher-preparation programs?

To address these questions, we re-analyzed prior evaluations of teacher-preparation programs from six locations: Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Washington State, and New York City. We found negligible differences in teacher quality between programs, amounting to no more than 3 percent of the average test-score gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers. Differences between programs were negligible even in Louisiana and New York City, where earlier evaluations had reported substantial differences and fueled the push for program accountability.

Most differences between programs would be too small to matter, even if we could measure them accurately. And we can rarely measure them accurately. The errors we make in estimating program differences are often larger than the differences we are trying to estimate. With rare exceptions, we cannot use student test scores to say whether a given program's teachers are significantly better or worse than average. If policymakers want to hold preparation programs accountable for the quality of their graduates, there may be better ways to do it.

A Push for Accountability

Four days before the 2016 election, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued a regulation requiring every state to publish an annual "report card" on the quality of its teacher-preparation programs. Report cards would rate programs by their outcomes, such as graduates' impacts on student performance on standardized tests, rather than program characteristics like curriculum and faculty credentials. Programs would be assigned one of four performance categories: low-performing, at-risk of being low-performing, effective, or exemplary. The report cards would be published on the Web. Like college ratings, they would provide feedback to preparation programs, help prospective teachers choose among programs, and help schools and districts evaluate job applicants from different programs. Programs persistently rated as low-performing would lose eligibility for federal TEACH grants, which provide $4,000 per year to students who train and then teach in a high-need subject or a high-poverty school.

The regulation was part of a larger plan to improve teacher recruitment and preparation nationwide, inspired by widespread concerns about the quality of teacher-training programs (see "21st-century Teacher Education," features, Summer 2013). Released in 2011, the plan won early support from some program providers, unions, and advocates. But when the specifics of the regulations were published in draft form in October 2016, they were criticized by congressional Republicans and union leaders as an example of burdensome federal overreach. President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers said the regulation was fundamentally misguided. "It is, quite simply, ludicrous," she said, "to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance [test scores] of the students taught by a program's graduates."

The regulation was never implemented. In early 2017, after Republicans regained the White House, the rule was repealed by Congress. At a public signing ceremony, President Trump declared the repeal had removed "an additional layer of bureacracy to encourage freedom in our schools. …

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