Opinion
Teacher Preparation Opinion

Rules Alone Won’t Propel Improvement of Teacher Ed. Programs

By Susan H. Fuhrman — January 27, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Proposed new rules from the U.S. Department of Education that would require states to rate teacher-preparation programs on the basis of outcomes, including student learning and employment-retention statistics for their recent graduates, make sense in theory. The public and aspiring educators deserve to know which programs turn out competent teachers.

In practice, however, implementing new rules doesn’t necessarily mean teacher education programs will improve.

Many scholars have criticized the measures suggested by the department that states might use for outcomes: the reliance on a single standardized test to judge growth in student learning; burdensome classroom-observation systems that strain the capacity of administrators; the limits of existing methodologies to completely eliminate the effects of school or student-background influences in tracing the contributions of individual teachers; and the measurement errors inherent in such systems.

BRIC ARCHIVE

These are legitimate concerns, but there’s a deeper problem: the idea that measures alone can spur improvement. Two problems with continual searches for upgraded measures are readily apparent.

First, states have had measures of teacher education programs’ outcomes for years. But they haven’t acted on them. They have administered licensure exams for decades, for example. But they have set passing rates way too low and have rarely taken any action against schools whose graduates have the lowest scores. According to the education policy think tank Education Sector, a majority of states have never identified a low-performing program, and only 129 of 13,000 programs have ever been singled out by a state for low performance.

The political will to confront weak programs (especially those in the districts of politically powerful legislators) is noticeably absent, and imposing sanctions such as those that the federal government is considering (denying student aid to candidates at ineffective schools) focuses on the victims—often the neediest students—not the schools and the states.

The evaluation of education schools in this country does indeed need fixing."

Second, states not only lack will, they lack capacity. The number of education schools that could benefit from help to improve far outnumber the few that might merit closing as a result of any outcome-measurement system. We know from studies of states that already have systems of tracing teacher contributions to student learning back to education schools that there’s a wide variation in college response. Some colleges know what to do with the data, what changes they might suggest, but many don’t.

More specific than the old rules, the new rules call for states to offer technical assistance to low-performing teacher-prep programs, including “providing programs with information on the specific indicators used to determine the program’s rating” and “helping identify potential research and other resources to assist program improvement.”

But state agencies have little experience and few staff members in this area. Might the federal government offer meaningful incentives to states to design, test, and share approaches to strengthening weak education schools and support research to assess effective interventions? It seems deeply cynical to require states to institute fancy new measurement systems while knowing that most have no approach to improving weak education schools.

Make no mistake: The evaluation of education schools in this country does indeed need fixing. Data about education schools often focus on input information, such as the qualifications of entrants into teacher education programs. An outcome approach is warranted. But new measures that make headlines are no substitute for policies and assistance designed to improve the teacher education programs themselves.

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2015 edition of Education Week as Measurement Alone Cannot Propel Improvement

Events

Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Teachers' Unions Are Starting Teacher-Prep Programs. Here's What to Know
The Washington Education Association is pioneering a teacher residency for special education. Other unions are noticing.
10 min read
Patrice Madrid, left, leads a Functional Core Program for 3rd through 5th graders as part of a teacher residency program under the guidance of staff teacher Shannon Winthrow, right, at Star Lake Elementary in Kent, Wash., on May 7, 2024.
Patrice Madrid, left, leads a special education classroom for 3rd through 5th graders as part of the Washington Education Association's teacher residency program under the guidance of staff teacher Shannon Withrow, right, at Star Lake Elementary in Kent, Wash., on May 7, 2024.
Meron Menghistab for Education Week
Teacher Preparation These Preparation Programs Are Creating a 'Tutor to Teacher' Pipeline
A new pipeline offering an authentic glimpse of the profession is growing, despite patchy financial cover.
8 min read
Photograph of an adult Black woman helping a female student with an assignment.
iStock/Getty
Teacher Preparation Opinion 3 Ways to Give Preservice Teachers Meaningful Classroom Experiences
A veteran teacher offers guidance on how to support teacher-candidates.
Allison Kilgore Thompson
3 min read
A novice teacher shadow is cast across an empty classroom.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + DigitalVision vectors + Getty Images
Teacher Preparation AI Is Coming to Teacher Prep. Here's What That Looks Like
One preparation program is banking on AI to transform new teacher training.
4 min read
Collage illustration of computer display and classroom image.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty