Feds on teacher ed: Don’t be horrible

Excellence is not the goal of new federal regulations of teacher preparation programs, writes Melissa Tooley of New America’s Education Policy Program.

Programs will have to report on their graduates’ outcomes, including “job placement and retention, preparedness perceptions of graduates and employers, and student learning outcomes.”

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States are told to “assure that teacher preparation programs produce candidates with content and pedagogical knowledge, quality clinical preparation, and who meet rigorous exit qualifications.”

Programs will be rated in at least three categories, effective, at-risk or low-performing.

Most states have been reluctant “to label poorly performing programs as such,” writes Tooley. That won’t change.

The regulations “are not really encouraging a push for excellence, only a push away from deficiency,” she writes. “If teacher preparation programs’ primary focus is on not being bad, instead of trying to be great, then the culture of ongoing improvement that we know we desperately need in our PreK-12 schools, and the programs that prepare educators to serve in them, is unlikely to materialize.”

Feds: Selective teacher ed hurts diversity

Eager to increase the number of black and Latino teachers, the U.S. Education Department wants teacher education programs to keep entry standards low, writes Jackie Mader for the Hechinger Report. It’s OK to be unselective, under new federal rules, as long as teacher education programs “maintain a high bar to exit.”

Only 18 percent of teachers are African-American, non-white Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American, according to a new Brookings report. Slightly more than half of public school students are non-white.

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The report predicted the number of Latino teachers will fall even farther behind the rising number of Latino students.

Students do better with same-race teachers, some research shows, Mader writes. Black teachers expect more of black students, according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study. “For example, white teachers were almost 40 percent less likely than their black counterparts to expect black students to finish high school.”

Lowering standards is an insult to blacks and Latinos, said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “I’m very much opposed to anything that would lower the bar for entry, for a simple reason: It’s already about as low as you can go. In many institutions in the United States, there are lower bars for entry than playing college athletics.”

Shakespeare vs. progressive education

Shakespeare can’t survive the progressive, multiculturalist principles taught in teacher education, writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory English professor, on Minding the Campus.

English teacher Dana Dusbiber refuses to teach Shakespeare because he’s too old, white, male and European, she wrote in the Washington Post.

She’s not some oddball, writes Bauerlien. Dusbiber learned in education school that students need to see their race represented in what they read. She was taught that “the past is irrelevant or worse,” that contemporary literature is “more real” than the “authoritarian” classics.

Shakespeare endures in the classroom on aesthetic and cultural grounds that progressivism refuses.  It casts aesthetic excellence as a political tool, the imposition of one group’s tastes upon everyone else.  And it marks the culture at whose pinnacle Shakespeare stands (the English literary-historical canon) as an outdated authority.

Progressive education can’t admit that “Shakespeare is central to our cultural inheritance,” concludes Bauerlein. “If progressivism reigns in secondary and higher education, Shakespeare, Pope, and Wordsworth are doomed.”

Ed classes are too easy

Education Majors Are Too Easy, writes Cristina Duncan Evans, who teaches social studies at a Baltimore high school, in Education Week Teacher.

After graduating from an Ivy League college, Evans entered teaching through alternate certification. She earned a master’s degree in teaching and takes education courses to maintain her certification.

Her education coursework has been short on rigor and problem solving, she writes. Instructors often use exercises that treat teachers as though they were children.

“Too frequently instructors simply show teachers an instructional practice, have them play the roles of students, then move on to the next portion of the session,” Evans complains. There’s no debrief on what worked and why.

Too often I’ve come to the end of an education class and had practical questions about how the theory I learned was supposed to guide day-to-day interactions with my students. I took the state’s required literacy courses, but I didn’t know how to assign texts in a way that built both literacy skills and content knowledge until I began reading professional texts independently.

Teacher education programs’ low entrance requirements and unchallenging coursework are a turn off for high-achieving students, writes Evans. “When people who love learning don’t find it remotely appealing to study education, something’s wrong.”

Prospective teachers are misled about their preparation for the classroom by Easy A’s, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

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.