Opinion
Teacher Preparation Opinion

Building a Better Teacher-Prep Program

By Caitlin Hannon, Natalie Merz, Jacob Pactor & Jennifer Rogers — March 25, 2014 5 min read
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As educators and Teach Plus teaching policy fellows, we thank the dean of Indiana University Bloomington’s school of education Gerardo Gonzalez for responding to us in his Commentary “Defining Teacher-Prep Accountability.” We also commend the Indiana University Bloomington school of education for its track record of producing Indiana Teachers of the Year and for its preparation of several of our Teach Plus colleagues.

We agree with Mr. Gonzalez that we should begin “with the question of whether a given teacher-preparation program produces graduates who can work effectively in school classrooms to increase student learning and achieve other valued educational outcomes.” We are encouraged and excited by the standards put forth by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, as well. Data and research must be scientifically valid, peer reviewed, and replicated. Teach Plus will continue to endorse research that meets these standards.

While we value rigorous and scientifically valid research methodology, it’s important for us as classroom teachers to focus on the role teacher-preparation programs play in elevating the profession. By working together, preparation programs and their alumni have a powerful opportunity to influence the future of the profession. We believe collaboration between research universities and educators on the ground will result in elevating the profession in a way we can all agree is necessary.

Universities have an opportunity to raise the value of an undergraduate education degree by focusing on the rigor of their programs as strongly as they focus on the outcomes. In the end of her book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley makes clear that federal, state, and local governments have been trying to professionalize teaching on the output side with teacher evaluations and standardized tests. While other nations do the same, they also prioritize teaching on the input side by positioning teaching as a profession similar to business, medicine, or law, in which both the program and the degree matter. Too often, the bar to enter teacher-preparation programs in the United States is low in comparison with other disciplines.

BRIC ARCHIVE

The direct entry requirements for the undergraduate school of education at Indiana University Bloomington, for example, pale in comparison with those of the undergraduate school of business. According to the university’s website, for high school seniors to gain admission to the latter, they need “composite ACT scores of 30 or sat total score of 1270, including only the math and critical reading sections.” For the school of education, they need “a minimum sat score of 1110 or a minimum ACT score of 24.”

If we want to attract the best and the brightest to the profession, we need to set a high bar for entry in addition to measuring the results of graduates in the classroom. Obviously, this issue is not unique to Indiana University Bloomington, and we urge Mr. Gonzalez and his colleagues across the state and country to raise the college and university admission standards for teaching degrees.

We also believe that higher education can do a better job of soliciting and implementing feedback from alumni now in the classroom. Early-career alumni surveys, developed using an appropriate research methodology, would both inform a university and elevate the voices of alumni who want to improve the programs from which they graduated. We commend Indiana University Bloomington for conducting these surveys, and we encourage other preparation programs to follow suit.

Many of our Teach Plus Indianapolis colleagues, most of whom graduated from preparation programs in Indiana, have not been contacted by these programs since graduating. While information a university collects at the end of each course is valuable, alumni can also provide meaningful feedback on which courses were essential to their growth as classroom teachers and where a program was lacking. Schools and school districts, especially in urban areas, are concerned about the high rates of teacher turnover, and preparation programs can improve this turnover by asking early-career teachers how their training helped—or hurt—retention.

The Jan. 8, 2014, issue of Education Week included a letter to the editor from Gerardo M. Gonzalez, the dean of the school of education at Indiana University Bloomington, in which he explained why his school would not voluntarily participate in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s teacher-preparation study. In a subsequent letter, which appeared in the Jan. 29 issue, the executive director of Teach Plus Indianapolis, Caitlin Hannon, and three Teach Plus teaching fellows challenged Mr. Gonzalez to “take the lead in creating a framework that holds preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ performance.”

The Commentary editors invited Mr. Gonzalez and Teach Plus Indianapolis to discuss how they might improve teacher-preparation accountability. To read Mr. Gonzalez’s essay, “Defining Teacher-Prep Accountability,” which appeared in the March 12 issue, go to www.edweek.org/go/gonzalez.

To read both the original letters, go to www.edweek.org/go/teacherprep-letters.

Finally, we encourage preparation programs to increase the availability of the data they collect and the research they perform. It is encouraging that Mr. Gonzalez is pushing to publicly report the results of alumni in classrooms, and we appreciate the data he shared in his Commentary. However, prior to reading his essay, we searched the school of education’s website, but could not find these results or the surveys. We do not doubt this data is collected and used to inform decisionmaking at the university, but our Teach Plus colleagues, some of whom attended Indiana University, were unable to identify where this information is published.

Teacher-preparation programs must make sure that prospective students, alumni, and employers are able to access data on the results of various schools of education programs. Just as we are asked to be reflective in our teaching practice, we would like to see our alma maters being reflective in their efforts to improve teacher preparation. As alumni, we would like a seat at the table to help improve our respective programs. This would ensure that current and future alumni are not only proud of their degrees, but invested in the future of the schools they attended and their careers. We can only do this if data is transparent and accessible.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to engage in this dialogue, and we hope teacher-preparation programs across the country take our suggestions to heart. We welcome the opportunity to work with any program so that we can help to elevate the teaching profession. We became teaching policy fellows because we believe classroom teachers can provide critical information and ideas to policymakers and administrators, while continuing to have an impact in the classroom.

Often people far removed from the classroom make decisions that have a direct impact on classroom teachers. At Teach Plus, we attempt to close that gap and offer our own experience to inform decisionmaking in education. We believe it is possible to solicit feedback from teachers and remain faithful to high research standards.

Rather than issuing you another challenge, Mr. Gonzalez, we would like to make a request. Would you be willing to gather colleagues from across the state and meet with a group of Teach Plus teaching policy fellows to discuss the role of classroom educators in teacher-preparation accountability? We hope there is a way to collaborate to capture the voices of alumni in these discussions. We are grateful for your willingness to deepen our understanding on your efforts at Indiana University Bloomington.

As classroom teachers, we are searching continually for ways to improve our craft. We know that educators in higher education feel the same way. Let’s work together to elevate the entire education profession through preparation and practice.

A version of this article appeared in the March 26, 2014 edition of Education Week as Building a Better Teacher-Prep Program

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