Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Benchmarking Teacher Education: A Comparative Assessment of the Top Ten Teacher-Producing Universities' Contributions to the Teacher Workforce

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Benchmarking Teacher Education: A Comparative Assessment of the Top Ten Teacher-Producing Universities' Contributions to the Teacher Workforce

Article excerpt

Introduction

Pressure to reform the nation's schools that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) has yielded 23 years of evidence of ways to improve schools (Marzano, 2003). One factor that has consistently demonstrated its power to improve under-performing schools is teacher quality (Rice, 2003; Wenglinsky, 2002; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997). The pressures exerted by the 2002 No Child Left Behind legislation have made the quality of the teacher workforce a cornerstone of that reform effort. Teacher quality is an elusive expression that speaks to the need for teachers who know what to teach and how to teach it to learners who differ in significant ways. Recommendations to address the need for high quality teachers to serve in urban, suburban, and rural settings include proposals for school-, district-, and state-based changes to alter both pre- and in-service teacher professional learning.

Thus, since 1983 teacher preparation programs have come under fire to produce more effective teachers to serve all schools better. Each teacher preparation program has its unique characteristics and need for evidence about how programs have affected the teacher workforce. A responsive teacher education community needs conceptual and practical tools for accountability and improvement. Such tools should make it possible to gather and use evidence about current students and alumni for these dual purposes. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the usefulness of one such tool, the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), for the comparative analysis of alumni teachers. This article shows how SASS can be used as an evaluative tool by any institution that wants to appraise its alumni in comparison to those of its parallel institutions for the purposes of accountability and improvement.

Using the Schools and Staffing Survey for Benchmarking

The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) is one of the key survey projects conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It has been conducted five times so far, in school years 1987/1988, 1990/1991, 1993/1994, 1999/2000, and 2003/2004, and it is a potential source of long range data useful for comparative benchmarking. Benchmarking methodologies are helpful for making broad performance comparisons (Smith, Armstrong, & Brown, 1999). Benchmarking uses externally developed qualitative and quantitative measurements or standards to establish a foundation from which to develop internal improvements in a process of continuous evaluation and renewal (McNair & Leibfried, 1992). Critical to true benchmarking is this notion of an external reference point. A large, external data set like SASS is one useful tool for understanding an organization within its environment from a neutral yet statistically powerful standpoint.

By benchmarking several indicators of teacher quality (e.g., retention rate, completion of the master's degree and certifications, and professional development) using external data collected from a national pool of in-service teachers, leaders in schools of education can make comparative assessments of their alumni. Individual universities could not possibly have the reach that SASS has for several reasons, not the least of which is the time and expense necessary to keep track of alumni throughout their careers in order to have this locally useful data. SASS puts the contribution of each institution in the context of its working alumni, providing a broad yet distinctive view of that contribution. In this article, the top ten teacher-producing universities, by shear numbers, are compared. With a total N of approximately 150,000 in-service teachers disaggregated institutionally, it is possible to examine empirical patterns in critical areas of teacher preparation and in-service professional learning for this set of large teacher-producing institutions.

To demonstrate the potential usefulness of SASS to schools of education, Illinois State University (ISU)-a historic "normal school" or teachers' college (Cook & McHugh, 1882; Harper, 1935; Hurst, 1948; Ogren, 2005)-serves as a main but not sole example. …

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