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Group Offers Broad, Critical Review of State Policy on Teacher Quality

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The policies that states use to govern the teaching profession are outdated, both too inflexible and not rigorous enough, and often privilege the interests of teachers over those of students, an encyclopedic review of state regulations of the field released today concludes.

The review grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia in six areas of policy, for a total of more than 1,300 grades, but finds no state worthy of more than two B’s. Most earned a mix of C’s, D’s, and F’s.

Tied for best-performing states were Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Texas, but the reviewers still considered them “weak.” Alaska and Maine were tied for worst, followed by Montana, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Three years in the making, the report is the work of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington advocacy and research organization that has championed higher standards for teachers, especially as determined by test scores and linked to individual rewards. The group intends to update annually its State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which includes an extensive review of each state’s policies, including recommendations for improvement.

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report covers some of the same teacher-policy ground.

Among the conclusions drawn in the report:

• Only 17 states require teacher-preparation programs to make basic-skills testing a condition of admission, and only three require teachers to pass a test of minimal professional knowledge before entering a classroom. Twenty states give teachers up to three years to pass a professional-competency test.

• Just 14 states require annual evaluations of teachers, and only four specify that classroom effectiveness should be the preponderent criterion.

• Only six states offer “genuine” alternative routes into the profession for those already holding a bachelor’s degree, meaning standards for entry are higher than for traditional programs, requirements are individualized, and the distribution of work is manageable for someone already in the classroom.

• Just 18 states collect “meaningful” numerical data on how well the graduates of teacher-preparation programs do, such as their students’ test scores. The lack of such data, the authors say, limits states’ ability to hold programs accountable.

• Twenty-three states attach “a lot of strings” before giving an out-of-state teacher an equivalent license.

The review is particularly hard on policies regarding special education teachers. Those policies, it contends, “reflect a view that [such] teachers are little more than behavior managers and do not have to deliver actual instruction to children.” In general, the report says, states continue to neglect many teachers’ subject-matter preparation, despite progress made on that front because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The review also faults states for doing little to alleviate the shortage of mathematics and science teachers, which often results in shortchanging the neediest children of teachers qualified in those fields. For instance, according to the report, just over half the states—28—support paying teachers in shortage areas more.

Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ, acknowledged that the report does not address the actual quality of teachers in a state, since many factors beyond policy influence that. “But state policy can make good teachers better and poor teachers abysmal,” she argued.

Noting that state education departments have had several chances to see and respond to the reviews, she said she hoped the yearbook would lead to further collaboration with the states. “We’re not saying that if states just do the 27 things we say, everything will be perfect,” Ms. Walsh added. “We want a conversation. We’ve put forward some fairly good models of how those [policy] reforms should occur.”

Moving the Field Backwards?

The yearbook has already begun to face sharp criticism, however, in part because the grades and recommendations are predicated on those models. The goals they are intended to meet were set with the help of a 35-plus-member advisory group that includes former school superintendents, teachers, education business leaders, and state education officials, among others. Yet most of the panel, including economist Eric A. Hanushek and Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, have struck off in directions different from those trod by university-based teacher education programs or the teachers’ unions.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, for example, fired off a two-page rebuttal this week, arguing that the NCTQ’s recommendation to keep professional accreditation and state approval of teacher-preparation programs separate “would move teaching backward three decades. … Professional accreditation has been a substitute for state approval in most professions for the past 50 to 100 years,” the statement from the Washington-based accrediting body said.

C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the National Center for Alternative Certification, also in Washington, questioned the value of toting up facts about such programs across the nation, in part because they are ever-changing and in part because she believes the existing setup is working. “We really do have a truly market-driven phenomenon, and … if the programs don’t meet the needs of candidates and of the districts who need them, then they are dead,” she contended.

Alaska’s state schools chief responded with surprise to the news that his state had gotten a D from the NCTQ in teacher licensure. “We’re probably more innovative than the vast majority of states on teacher licensure, and … we’re one of the few to require that pedagogy is at the same level as content knowledge,” Roger Sampson said about the system that was put in place starting in 2005-06. It requires teachers to submit videotapes of their teaching to earn passage from the beginning level of licensure to the “professional” level.

Mr. Sampson, who will take over this September as the president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, which advises state officials on matters of education policy, wondered whether the yearbook’s facts were up to date. In any case, he said, in the next year or two, his state should go from the current F on “state approval of teacher-preparation programs” to a higher grade because Alaska education leaders are working on an approval process that emphasizes the performance of aspiring teachers.

Said Mr. Sampson, “I’m not confident that those things [the NCTQ] picked out [to grade the states on] are the causes of the output” the authors of the report are seeking.

Vol. 26

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