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Teacher Prep

I Can Count on One Hand the Number of Teachers Whose Colleges Prepared Them

Almost 50 percent of teachers are not in the classroom after five years, and when you add those who get a degree but never teach, about 75 percent of graduates who have paid college tuition to become teachers are not teaching just five years later. We can't blame all that attrition on poor preparation, but I can count on one hand the number of folks who have told me that they felt their colleges prepared them for the challenges of teaching. We have divorced preparation for teaching from the practice of teaching—to the deficit of our future colleagues and their students. To address this deficit, the U.S. Department of Education released Teacher Preparation Regulations after a wait of over five years. The focus of the regulations is to provide transparency and feedback to drive improvement in teacher preparation programs. The new regulations revamp the reporting that already exists, and now drill down to track outcomes to the program level. Rather than focus on the details, (you can read the Department’s synopsis here) I’m going to give an educator’s stance on the hits and misses.

The Hits and Misses

First of all, this all really falls to the states. The Department provides a lot of parameters in their regulations, but the real structure and details are at the state level. That’s great if you’re in a state that believes in involving all key stakeholder voices and really attempting to root out unintended consequences while making great teachers. If you’re not, watch out. This is especially concerning when you look at the provisions that require states to report on student learning. Terminology in the proposed regulations called for “significant” weighting to be applied to student learning, but the final regulations allow states to determine weighting. It will be important for teachers to be vigilant on this to make sure that student learning measures are chosen and measured appropriately. I think Kate Walsh, a huge proponent of teacher prep accountability, laid out the potential pitfalls quite well:
…the use of value-added measures to assess program quality is in fact fraught with methodological difficulties, especially for smaller prep programs. To get enough data points to reach a sound judgment of program quality, it's often necessary to collect teachers’ performance data for five, or even more, years after graduation. That hardly seems fair to programs. The fact is that value-added measures only produce meaningful results for the few programs turning out big numbers of graduates who go on to teach tested subjects each year, and in some cases, the programs whose graduates’ performance is a clear outlier.
The consequences of these regulations will be both direct and indirect. Programs that aren’t meeting requirements are to be designated as at-risk or low performing by the state and remediated; this will be a black eye for institutions. They can also lose their ability to provide TEACH grants to students, but that’s not a huge hammer. The most promising pieces of the regulations will provide new information for the consumers, both students and prospective employers. Programs will have to report whether their employees actually get hired and if they stay employed for at least three years. Employers will also have a say since the legislation requires that they be surveyed (and again, what is asked will fall to the states). The real consequences will come when high school counselors, prospective students and parents begin looking at this data to decide where to invest their tuition dollars. It will be five years before we see any consequences take hold. The 2016-17 academic year is for planning; states may choose to use 2017-18 as a pilot year and full implementation begins in 2018-19. TEACH grant eligibility isn’t even in danger until 2021-22. Here’s the bottom line: The impact of this is going to be dependent on what states choose, so the impact will vary greatly state to state. And unless someone develops a great website to advertise all this new info that’s being collected, consumers aren’t going to pay enough attention to require changes by universities. The teacher prep regulations aren’t going to bring about great change like the Flexner report did for the medical profession. It’s a start, but we still have a long way to go!
Maddie Fennell, NBCT
Maddie Fennell, NBCT, has been an elementary teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for 27 years, teaching in first, fourth and sixth grades and mentoring her peers as a literacy coach. She was honored as the Nebraska Teacher of the Year in 2007. This year she is on special assignment to the National Education Association as a Teacher Fellow. Prior to this position, Maddie completed a three-year ...

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