For some time, the central challenge of teacher preparation has been ensuring that new educators are prepared to help the nation’s increasingly diverse students meet increasingly complex expectations—in school, and then in college and careers. But only recently have preparation programs begun focusing their attention on those who have the biggest stake in a pipeline of effective educators: the nation’s students.
That shift in focus represents a sea change in preparing the nation’s teacher workforce. New standards for accrediting teacher-preparation programs—put together by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and approved in late August by CAEP’s board, on which we both sit—will move providers from a process-oriented system of accountability to one that measures improvement against desired student outcomes, from inclusive to highly selective admissions, and from theoretical, academic preparation to an emphasis on pedagogy and clinical practice learned from hands-on experience in schools.
In doing so, these standards will help elevate the teaching profession, better prepare prospective educators, and, above all, ensure that preparation programs are teaching new educators the skills that result in improved student outcomes.
These changes were not imposed by policymakers in Washington but by a broad cross section of stakeholders, including university and P-12 officials, representatives of nontraditional programs, chief state school officers, critics, union officials, and others who put aside their differences to create new expectations for the field. Members of the standards commission, chaired by Vanderbilt University education Dean Camilla Benbow and Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, understood that the status quo wasn’t working and decided to raise the bar themselves—not because of fear that others would set the standards, but because they know it is what is needed to actually improve teaching and learning for students.
The new standards will require preparation programs, which currently have no set requirements for selectivity, to raise their expectations significantly. For example, programs will accept only the top 33 percent of students taking the ACT, the SAT, or the GRE by 2020. Much as rigorous admissions requirements for entry to other fields, including engineering, law, and medicine, are a key element in why these professions are so highly valued, we believe that high standards will improve public regard of educators and attract more of the best and the brightest.
Furthermore, at a time when we need a more diverse teacher workforce that mirrors the students it teaches, we believe that increased selectivity will help to attract a diverse candidate pool, as has been the case with highly selective teacher education programs. Indeed, the new standards require programs to recruit, select, prepare, and graduate a diverse pool of teachers who meet a high bar. And as more students graduate from high school college- and career-ready, we believe we will have a higher-performing candidate pool as the requirements are introduced over time.
The standards also will ensure that teacher-preparation programs prepare candidates in partnership with the schools and districts that will hire them. They will hold traditional and nontraditional programs to the same rigorous standards. And perhaps most importantly, accreditation of teacher-preparation programs will rest, in part, on solid evidence of pre-K-12 student achievement and growth in the classrooms in which their graduates teach.
These changes reflect a broad consensus among experts and practitioners alike about what needs to be done to actually improve student outcomes. Most institutions have already increased their focus on clinical, school-based preparation, and there are few who would question the need for better evidence to gauge the efficacy of teacher preparation. But CAEP has balanced the need for greater accountability to high standards with the help and support institutions need to reach them. Our guiding belief is that accreditation should not just serve as a measuring stick, but also as a tool to help institutions become more reflective, address problems, and continuously improve.
Nowhere is this more important than in the measuring of student outcomes. While results in the classroom must be the measure by which all teacher-preparation efforts are ultimately judged, data about student achievement also will help institutions by providing information about their graduates’ success in the classroom, which in turn will help them make needed changes to their preparation programs.
This increased emphasis on student growth has been made possible by the potential for better and more actionable forms of data at the pre-K-12 level, including efforts by many states to develop robust data systems. However, we know that such systems are still in their infancy in many places, and CAEP will, over time, as the standards are gradually introduced, work to develop responsible ways to gather and report data. And this information will be a part of a broader array of evidence that will be used to measure the efficacy of teacher preparation, with an emphasis on using multiple measures while focusing on fewer, but more relevant, sources of data.
We’ve already seen the promise of how providers can make use of this richer evidence. In Ohio, for example, education institutions are balancing the state’s value-added metrics and teacher-performance assessment with surveys of teachers and principals. The surveys were conducted both during and after preparation and focus on specific elements of preparation programs. Missouri is developing preservice assessments for prospective educators that relate instruction to student outcomes. And some institutions, such as New York University’s Steinhardt School, are building their own data-collection systems to track candidates and follow them into the field, partnering with the state department of education and other colleges to share information.
Institutions are rightly wary about the use of data. Most are already awash in data—and, as part of traditional accreditation procedures, they are often asked to develop even more. Making matters worse, such data are rarely put to good use, largely because they haven’t been relevant to the kinds of things providers need to know to improve their programs.
[A]ccreditation should not just serve as a measuring stick, but also as a tool to help institutions become more reflective, address problems, and continuously improve.”
The new standards address these concerns. They identify the kinds of data that will hold providers to high standards, but also allow them to spot areas of improvement and benchmark themselves against peer programs. In fact, we believe the real change-making potential of the standards lies within CAEP’s work to help institutions strengthen the collection of the right kinds of data and make use of the information internally—by sharing what’s working and what needs to be improved with providers, faculty, partner institutions, and students themselves. Only in this way will a true culture of continuous improvement flourish.
CAEP also recognizes that its standards are bounded by the types of evidence currently available and the limitations on what they can measure. As part of the development process, CAEP studied the use of surveys, observational measures, value-added measures, and other student-growth models, and it is keenly aware of the limitations of each set of measures and under what circumstances they are usable.
We know we need far better research on exactly what constitutes high-quality teacher preparation. However, we believe the emphasis on evidence and other expectations of programs are precisely what will move the field in the right direction, and CAEP will work with institutions, states, the federal government, and other stakeholders to develop the right kinds of data and eliminate duplicative efforts. In particular, we need the help of state leaders, many of whom are collecting, or are seeking to collect, the same kinds of data that CAEP is asking of institutions. The new standards are a big lift—for teacher-preparation programs, for teacher-candidates, for states, and for the field as a whole. But we believe that the higher expectations they represent are the only way to both elevate the teaching profession and improve outcomes for students—two lofty goals that now have both aspirational and concrete guidelines to help make them a reality.
A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2013 edition of Education Week as Why the New Teacher Ed. Standards Matter