To the Editor:
In the search for improved student learning, policymakers rightfully look to much-needed improvements in teacher-preparation programs. A seemingly sensible strategy is to measure the effectiveness of and accredit preparation programs to examine how well their graduates do in teaching their students (“New Rules for Ed. Prep Are Mulled,” March 9, 2011).
However, putting aside the considerable methodological problems of measuring the actual gains in achievement that can be attributed to teachers, this approach to assessing preparation programs will have unreliable and negative consequences.
There is abundant research showing that the practices of beginning teachers are strongly influenced by the norms and expertise of other teachers in their schools, by the support they get in their first years of teaching, and by the conditions in their schools that support student learning.
Teacher-preparation programs have no influence over these powerful effects on teaching quality.
Do we need better and fewer teacher-preparation programs? Of course! So, what to do? Develop rigorous performance-based assessments of teacher-candidates before they are allowed to teach, just as we try to do with every other profession we value.
Willis D. Hawley
Mr. Hawley is a professor emeritus of education and public policy at the University of Maryland. He is also a former member of the board of Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week’s nonprofit parent company.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2011 edition of Education Week as Before Teachers Teach, Assess Them Rigorously