Magazine article State Legislatures

Room for Improvement: How Can We Expect A+ Teachers from C- Training Programs?

Magazine article State Legislatures

Room for Improvement: How Can We Expect A+ Teachers from C- Training Programs?

Article excerpt

The nation's colleges and universities are under mounting pressure to do a better job of training prospective teachers--and, for the first time ever, to prove they are doing it.

Over the years, attempts to reform teacher preparation programs have been largely unfocused and piecemeal, and yielded little in the way of real change and improvement.

But this time, the pressure is coming all at once--from states, the federal government and even from within the profession itself--in the form of wide-ranging policy initiatives aimed at boosting the performance of the 1,200-plus programs that turn out roughly a quarter-million new teachers each year.

And the consequences for programs that fail to measure up are unprecedented: loss of accreditation, state-ordered shutdown and the possible denial of federal financial aid to the students they enroll.

All Eyes on the Board

"There is a lot of attention focused on this issue, and I think it is ripe for action," says Representative Alice Piesch (D), House chair of the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Education.

Massachusetts is one of seven states in the process of overhauling its teacher preparation and licensing systems under a two-year pilot project created by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Idaho is also one of the seven, and Representative Wendy Horman (R) believes it's a good first step toward finding real solutions. "I have appreciated being involved in Idaho's conversation around teacher preparation," she says. "As legislators, the more we understand and study the system--and the impact of our decisions--the more progress we have made toward solutions."

The goal of the pilot project is to show how state leaders can drive reform: raising admission standards for teacher-preparation programs, making licensure contingent on prospective teachers' demonstration of specific skills, and revamping the way states evaluate and certify programs. Other states participating in the initiative are Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Washington.

Dovetailing with the project are two other significant initiatives aimed squarely at reforming and improving teacher training.

The Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation has a set of proposed standards for teacher prep programs that would for the first time require accredited programs to be more selective in admitting students; specifically, only those with a collective 3.0 grade-point average or better, and scores in the top third on national tests like the ACT or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The standards include improved practice teaching programs and better analysis of their effectiveness in terms of graduation rates, completion of licensing requirements, and satisfaction among both graduates and the school districts that employ them.

Beginning in 2016, teacher prep programs would be put on probation if they fall below the threshold in one of five standards, and would be denied accreditation for falling below it in two or more standards.

The Federal "Solution"

And from the federal government comes newly proposed rules for evaluating all teacher preparation programs in the nation, using metrics that could include the number of graduates placed in schools, as well as pass rates on licensing exams, teacher retention rates and job performance ratings of teachers.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the effort is aimed at pushing states to do a better job identifying programs that perform at a high level, and to shut down the weakest programs. He noted that more than half of the states hadn't rated even one of their teacher prep programs as subpar in the past 10 years.

The new federal regulations--which will be phased in over several years--will likely preclude federal financial aid to students enrolled in low-performing programs. …

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