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Quality Control: New Report Criticizes Teacher Education Programs and Offers New Solutions for Accountability

Aug 02, 2010

The Center for American Progress recently released an analysis of teacher education programs across the U.S. They found that most states do almost nothing to hold schools accountable for the performance of their graduates, and colleges tend to set low standards for education majors. The report offers a proposal for a better accountability system based on classroom performance.

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States Fail to Implement Quality Control for Teacher Education

America's students, from kindergarten through high school graduation, are the ultimate 'consumers' of our nation's teacher education programs. It is these children who will be most affected by the quality of teacher education - yet, according to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP), little is being done to hold teacher education programs accountable for their graduates' work in the classroom.

The report notes that a crop of alternative training programs such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project have developed to 'offer solutions to serious problems that many university-based teacher preparation programs appear unwilling to address.' Yet, in spite of this competition, many traditional programs continue to set low standards. Their admissions departments don't select for 'high quality candidates,' they don't include enough hands-on classroom training and they rarely offer a rigorous academic curriculum.

Furthermore, state policies fail to hold teacher education programs accountable for poor performance. According to the report, most states rely on the program approval process for quality control, which focuses more on input than output. While 'extensive time and energy' is put into oversight policies and administering program approval, very few states link their requirements to outcome measures such as pupil learning results. Even national accrediting programs, which many states rely on to complement their regulatory policies, don't take academic outcomes into account when judging program quality. In fact, the report asserts that there isn't 'any reason to believe that teachers who complete an accredited preparation program are more likely to demonstrate high-quality classroom teaching performance than those trained elsewhere.'

Elementary Education

Quality control is also failing at licensing. The report credits No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with the fact that most states now require prospective teachers to pass a series of tests before becoming licensed to practice. However, there hasn't been an effort to standardized the content of the exams, leading to a 'crazy quilt' of 1,100 different tests nationwide.

Furthermore, the tests fail to evaluate how teachers perform. They typically measure basic knowledge and skills that are appropriate to an eighth grade level, and don't address what teachers actually do in the classroom. The National Research Council has found that teacher licensing exams are not designed to predict a beginning teachers' degree of teaching success, and other scholars have concluded that there is 'little evidence that...a relationship exists between teachers' scores on such tests and their teaching success.'

And even if the tests were effectively measuring teacher performance, their implementation is so varied that it 'undercuts the legitimacy of accountability itself.' It's not unusual for states to set different passing scores for the same test, or for states to change the 'cut scores' from one year to the next. And while states may use test scores to flag both the weakest teacher candidates and teacher education programs, they rarely impose any consequences on programs that consistently graduate underperforming students.

High School

The final element of current accountability measures for teacher education programs is derived from Title II of the Higher Education Amendments. Title II rules require annual reports to the state from each program requiring the disclosure of certain information to the public, reports from each state to the U.S. Department of Education and an annual report on teacher quality from the Department to Congress. Although these reports are made available to both policymakers and the public, they're dense and difficult to understand.

Current practices also circumvent one of the key measures of the reports - pass rates on teacher licensing exams. Published pass rates were intended to hold teaching schools accountable for the success rates of their graduates. But many institutions and state agencies have gotten around this measure by requiring teacher candidates to pass all required teacher tests before being allowed to graduate. This artificially elevates pass rates to 100%, since only those who have passed the tests can be measured as graduates.

The report also proposes another way to evaluate the effectiveness of state oversight: Do state agencies penalize programs that are failing to prepare teachers? Although the CAP's evaluation suggests that there should be many programs shut down for poor performance, less than two percent of all U.S. teacher education programs have been flagged as low performing since 1998, when Congress required each state to develop and implement a set of criteria to identify under performing programs.

There are 1,170 teach education programs in the country, but in 2006 only 31 programs nationwide were identified as 'at-risk or low performing.' That's up from 17 in 2005 and 11 in 2002. The CAP suggests that since Congress allows each state to set its own requirements, state governments have simply set the bar extremely low for programs to be labeled as 'low performing.'

Center for American Progress

Linking Accountability to Performance

The CAP report proposes a 'stronger accountability system for teacher education programs.' Their system would offer some standardization from state to state - they argue that states have 'compelling reasons' to establish common standards, policies and practices in order to ensure that geography doesn't dictate the quality of our youth's education. Their system is based on empirical indicators of what students learn from their teachers, how long teachers remain in their profession and whether or not quality teachers are staying in the difficult-to-staff schools that need them the most.

They propose the following guiding principles for new systems of teacher education evaluation:

  • Both teacher preparation and program accountability should focus on what actually improves instruction.
  • State accountability should be based on 'clear signals' regarding program quality that can be understood by policymakers and implemented by administrators.
  • These signals should be based on empirical, measurable data derived from a small number of key outcomes.
  • Accountability measures as well as consequences for poor performance should be applied equally to all teacher education programs in the state, whether they are traditional or alternative.
  • Full public disclosure should be required for all accountability findings in order to promote transparency and the credibility of state oversight policies.

Program accountability systems should emerge out of these guiding principles, building on five essential components:

  1. Teacher effectiveness measures that report the extent to which program graduates actually help their K-12 students learn.
  2. The use of graduates' classroom teaching performance to by states to judge program quality.
  3. Reporting program graduates' persistence rates in teaching. The CAP suggests that making this data publically available for a period of time after program completion will encourage policymakers and the public to address the high turnover problem.
  4. Feedback surveys from program graduates and their employers. These findings should be made public and used as a key performance indicator.
  5. A new, more consistent and accurate system of teacher licensing exams.
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