Colleges balk at plan to grade teacher ed

The U.S. Education Department wants to grade ed schools and teacher training programs on performance, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Do graduates find and keep jobs? Do they do well on evaluations? And — most controversial — do their students’ test scores show academic progress? Would-be teachers in low-scoring training programs would lose eligibility for federal student aid, known as TEACH grants.

Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History class at Northgate High in Walnut Creek and also teaches instructors at Saint Mary's College. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History class at Northgate High in Walnut Creek and also teaches instructors at Saint Mary’s College. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The proposal was announced in December and could be finalized by mid-year. Education schools hate it.

“Value-added” measures of student growth are unreliable, argues Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford education school.

Regulations would penalize programs that prepare teachers for inner-city schools, said Kathy Schultz, dean of the Mills College School of Education in Oakland. Mills teachers often work in Oakland.

“The State Board of Education, California State University and others in the state education establishment” claim the regulations would cost California $233 million to develop new tests and about half a billion dollars a year to enforce, writes Noguchi.

But critics have trouble coming up with alternative ways to ensure new teachers are well prepared, writes Noguchi. “Schools of education have resisted measuring and releasing data about themselves.”

 “The inability of California to name what an effective teacher is creates the conditions where we go round and round,” said Tony Smith, former superintendent in Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco and a regulation backer. “One of the key components of effectiveness is that a child makes a year’s growth in a year’s time.”

“Teaching is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs there is,” says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teaching Quality. “Yet for reasons that are hard to fathom, it appears to be one of the easiest majors both to get into and then to complete.”

TFA novices do as well as trained veterans

With only a few weeks of training, Teach for America teachers are as effective with elementary students as traditionally trained, far more experienced teachers at the same high-poverty schools, concludes a new Mathematica study.

In pre-K through second grade, TFA teachers’ students gained an extra 1.3 months of reading, the study found.

The TFA teachers averaged 1.7 years of experience compared to 13.6 years for the other teachers studied. TFA recruits most of its corp members from selective universities.


Mathematica Policy Research.

Earlier research “suggests that TFA teachers have been more effective than their non-TFA counterparts in math and about the same in reading,” Mathematica noted.

Eighty-seven percent of TFA teachers — and 26 percent of conventionally trained teachers — don’t plan to make teaching a lifetime career, the study found. (Bloomberg calls that a “plan to fee teaching.”) However, 43 percent of TFA teachers who said they’ll leave the classroom plan education careers.

Easy A’s in teacher prep

Education majors earn high grades, but aren’t prepared for the classroom, concludes Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them, a National Council on Teacher Quality report.

NCTQ looked at more than 500 colleges and universities producing nearly half of the nation’s new teachers: 44 percent of teacher candidates graduate with honors, compared to 30 percent of all undergraduates.

“Teaching is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs there is,” said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “Yet for reasons that are hard to fathom, it appears to be one of the easiest majors both to get into and then to complete.”

NCTQ compared course assignments for 1,161 courses, both education and non-education (including business, psychology, history, nursing, economics and biology) across 33 institutions.

Education students’ grades were based primarily on broad, subjective assignments. Students didn’t need to show mastery of particular knowledge or skills. They only had to express an opinion.

Esther Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist, trained to teach secondary school “with concentrations in special and exceptional education and English-language learners — students requiring specialized knowledge and skills — and a sub-focus in math.” Throughout her 10 graduate courses, there were tedious “mini-lessons” and “group work” that “usually required only talking about our feelings,” she writes.

Instead of endless chapters of required reading, lengthy research papers and nail-biter exams, there was a lot of coloring, cutting and pasting, watching syrupy videos about how to be culturally adept and reflecting about, yes, our feelings.

Trained on fluffy assignments, teachers have brought the feelings-first approach to the classroom, writes Cepeda.

Anyone who has checked out a child’s homework or projects in the past few years has seen a shift from research, content testing and skill acquisition to subjective, opinion or feeling-based interpretive “work.” For instance, if a student in a history class was learning about people who sheltered Jews in their homes during the Holocaust, the student might be asked to write five paragraphs about a time he or she had to keep a secret.

Raise admissions criteria for teacher education and demand more of would-be teachers, writes Cepeda.

Change teacher prep, but how?

We need to change teacher training dramatically, writes Tom Kane in a Brookings Institution report. His model is the Flexner Report, which transformed medical education 100 years ago.

Kane thinks the new model will combine higher admissions standards for prospective teachers, improved training and greater selectivity — perhaps through “performance assessments” — in placing pre-service teachers in classrooms.

But it’s not clear what will work, he concedes. Can we really predict who’s going to be a good, average or lousy teacher?

Assigning one person to one classroom is a “profound error”, writes Grant Wiggins.

It hampers ongoing professional development, it breeds egocentrism, and makes it far too hard to get appropriate consistency across teachers concerning instructional quality, assessment, and grading.

So, what if we hired 4 teachers for 3 classrooms?

Teachers could observe each other, monitor novice teachers and specialize in their areas of strength, he argues.

NY raises bar for future teachers, principals

Would-be teachers will need a 3.0 grade point average and higher test scores for admission to teacher education at the State University of New York. Standards also will be raised for prospective principals.

“The quality of New York’s higher education system depends on having the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms teaching our students,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “These new admission requirements will help ensure that we are recruiting from exceptional candidates to educate our state’s students.”

A new Education Trust report, Preparing and Advancing Teachers and School Leaders, calls for “requiring more useful information on teacher and leader preparation programs, promoting meaningful action to improve low-performing programs and sparking innovation in how districts and states manage educator pipelines.”

 “Large numbers of educator preparation programs all across the nation are consuming considerable amounts of public dollars and in turn are pushing out teachers and leaders that are underprepared to meet the needs of today’s students,” said Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust.

Ed Trust calls for changes in federal policy. To qualify for federal student aid, states would have to evaluate teacher and principal education programs on outcomes, such as “tying student learning to graduates.”

The American Federation of Teachers’ 2012 report, Raising the Bar,  had similar recommendations, the union says. These include “the need to raise the rigor of teacher preparation programs, support prospective teachers with effective clinical experiences to assure their readiness to enter the profession, and apply standards equally to traditional and alternative programs. Where we differ is on how to hold teacher preparation programs accountable.”

NCTQ: Most teacher prep is mediocre


Ohio State was the top-rated teacher education program in the country.

University teacher education is an “industry of mediocrity,” concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review 2013.  The “vast majority of the 1,430 education programs that prepare the nation’s K-12 teachers” churn out “first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

Less than 10 percent of rated programs earned 3 out of 4 stars. Only four programs — all at the secondary level — earned 4. Ohio State, which earned 3½ stars for preparing elementary teachers and 4 stars for secondary teachers, was the top-ranked program, followed by Lipscomb and Vanderbilt in Tennessee and Furman University in South Carolina.

* Just over a quarter of programs restrict admissions to students in the top half of their class, compared with the highest-performing countries, which limit entry to the top third.

* Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in classrooms in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

* Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers, from 30 percent to under 10 percent. Instead, the teacher candidate is all too often told to develop his or her “own unique approach” to teaching reading.

* Just 7 percent of programs ensure that their student teachers will have uniformly strong experiences, such as only allowing them to be placed in classrooms taught by teachers who are themselves effective, not just willing volunteers.

While 239,000 teachers are trained each year, only 98,000 are hired, the report finds. Admitting the marginally qualified is profitable for ed schools, which often serve as cash cows for their universities, but not for their students.

“You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools,” said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. “If policymakers took this report seriously, they’d be shutting down hundreds of programs.”

The ratings are very controversial, notes the Washington Post. Some education schools refused to cooperate with NCTQ. “Take it with a salt shaker full of salt,” said Linda Darling Hammond, an expert on teacher education at Stanford University.

Online learning disrupts teacher ed

Online learning is disrupting teacher education, writes Meredith Liu, a visiting fellow at Innosight Institute, on Education Next.

The four largest education schools, in terms of bachelor’s and postbachelor’s degrees granted in 2011, were online programs, including the University of Phoenix (5,976) and Walden University (4,878), reports the U.S. Education Department.

University of Southern California’s online master’s — MAT@USC — uses interactive, web-based lectures and classes of 15 students.

  Similar to a webinar, students sign into a live session hosted by the professor. All class participants are visible to each other via individual video feeds and can signal to the professor when they want to speak. . . . Each class is archived in a video library for later review on the student’s computer or mobile device. The program facilitates learning outside of class through online study groups and a customized social-networking platform for students and faculty.

USC arranges for teacher candidates to complete 20 weeks of in-classroom training in their own communities. Student teachers can record and upload their lessons to USC faculty and classmates for feedback.

From 2008 to 2010, USC expanded from 100 to 2,200 degree candidates thanks to the online program, even though MAT@USC charges $40,000 for the 13-month program, the same as the on-campus price tag.

Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, fully online university, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Because WGU measures competency rather than credits, students can move quickly to a degree. The average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

The assessment for each competency uses multiple formats, including traditional testing, portfolio assignments, and observations. As many students have significant professional experience, they can skip some course content altogether and proceed directly to the assessment. For example, a career engineer switching into teaching does not need to suffer through introductory science and math courses to become a physics teacher.

Students complete their demonstration teaching near where they live.

WGU charges $2,890 for a six-month term during which students can take as many courses as they want.

WGU education graduates have “slightly higher rates of certification and employment than those attending comparison schools,” Liu writes. Still, it’s too soon to say whether online-trained teachers are as good as traditionally trained teachers.

By lowering opportunity costs — would-be teachers don’t have to quit their jobs and move to campus — online programs open up the profession to a wide range of people, notes Liu.

NCTQ: Teacher prep earns D+

Teacher preparation policies earned a D+ in 2012, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook. That’s up from a D in 2011.

The highest grade — B- — went to Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee. Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont made the most progress. Three states – Alaska, Montana and Wyoming – received failing grades.

Only a third of undergraduate teacher preparation programs are sufficiently selective, NCTQ finds. The majority “fail to ensure that candidates come from the top half of the college-going population.” Only 24 states require teacher preparation programs to use a basic skills test to screen applicants.

Standards are low for elementary teachers:

Teaching children to read is among an elementary teacher’s most important responsibilities, yet only 10 states appropriately assess teacher proficiency in effective reading instruction. And only 11 states adequately test new elementary teachers’ knowledge of mathematics.

Even though all but four states require some subject matter tests for elementary teacher licensing, the passing scores are extremely low. Every state (for which NCTQ has data) except Massachusetts sets the passing score for elementary teacher licensing tests below the average score for all test takers (50th percentile), and most states set passing rates at an exceedingly low level.

Only eight states– Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas – use student achievement data to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they graduate.

Too many (would-be) elementary teachers

State Output

Some states produce enough elementary teachers to fill anticipated openings, but others produce twice as many as needed—or more.

Supply Demand Percent Difference
Colorado 1,169 1,099 106%
Connecticut 701 600 117
Delaware 373 122 306
Illinois 9,982 1,073 930
Kentucky 1,275 730 175
Louisiana 1,033 650 159
Maryland 1,011 723 140
Massachusetts 1,175 1,051 112
Michigan 2,903 1,227 236
Minnesota 1,179 709 166
Mississippi 751 660 114
New York 6,498 2,800 232
Pennsylvania 6,048 1,420 426
Tennessee 1,970 1,380 143

In many states, colleges are churning out too many would-be elementary teachers, reports Education Week.

New York and Michigan prepared twice as many elementary teachers as needed in 2011-12. Pennsylvania turned out four new graduates for every job opening. Illinois issued nine new elementary-teacher certificates in 2009 for every one first-time teacher hired in 2010.

By contrast, Colorado and Michigan produce just enough new elementary teachers to meet demand. (That’s assuming nobody moves from Illinois and Pennsylvania.)

Colleges should be more selective about admitting teacher candidates and train them more intensively, argues the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We could improve, enhance, and extend the quality of teacher preparation, and therefore produce better-qualified new teacher graduates, but probably fewer in number,” agrees Arthur E. Wise, former president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Prospective elementary teachers have lower academic qualifications than other college graduates, concludes a 2007 Educational Testing Service report. (Secondary teachers have higher-than-average test scores.)

“We could raise the bar and get teachers with higher aptitudes in classrooms and still have plenty of elementary teachers,” (NCTQ’s Arthur) McKee said.

AFT seeks national ‘bar’ exam for teachers

Teachers’ colleges would set higher standards — at least a 3.0 grade point average — and would-be teachers would have to pass the equivalent of a bar exam, proposes the American Federation of Teachers in Raising the Bar. That includes prospective teachers with alternative certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would develop an “exam measuring content, pedagogy, and practice — based on a cohesive set of teaching standards crafted by practitioners,” reports Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat. NBPTS might use the performance assessments that are under development, said CEO Ronald Thorpe. “This is not about reinventing the wheel.”

But the details are unclear. How will teaching competence be measured? Will one style of teaching — let’s say “guide on the side” — be required? What happens if the failure rate is higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites and Asian-Americans?

Everyone wants to professionalize teaching, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. But “what if education isn’t really like law or medicine?”  What if “there isn’t a field-wide core of knowledge or skills all practitioners must have?”  We don’t  know what “makes a great 10th-grade English teacher or 12th grade government teacher,” beyond content knowledge, he writes.

A national exam would “level the playing field,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina look at how teachers from various preparation programs do in the classroom, responds Rotherham. Teach for America teachers do well.  The quality of other alternatively certified teachers varies. If Weingarten is trying to “reassert control over a rapidly decentralizing field” by freezing out TFA, that’s a waste of time.

Why not find out whether candidates can actually do what they’re being hired to do? Actual live teaching as part of the teacher hiring process remains stunningly rare.  I’d be a lot more excited if the AFT announced it wanted to pursue more of a guild model and see what we can learn from that approach. Even better if the union wanted to do training and put its brand behind the teachers who carry its label (in some cities AFT chapters do solid professional development). Instead, we’re once again trying to develop a test to address a problem everyone is aware of  but few have the political fortitude to take on: Most of our teacher preparation programs just aren’t very good.  We don’t need a test to tell us that, we need serious reform.

It’s a “serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. But, among other things, he’s worried by the vagueness of AFT’s call for “an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”

There is no hint of what in-depth knowledge might mean for a U.S. history teacher versus a geometry teacher versus an art teacher, nor does it address what sort of testing arrangement might gauge whether an individual possesses enough of it. (We know that the current arrangement—with most states relying heavily on the “Praxis II” test—does not do this well. We also know that some states do not take this issue on at all.)

NBPTS, which board certifies veteran teachers, hasn’t shown “much interest in subject-matter knowledge,” Finn writes. “Pedagogy, yes. Even lesson-planning. But not the causes and consequences of the Civil War or the ways that atoms combine to form molecules.”

Update: Putting the teachers’ union in charge of certifying teachers is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.