Training Accountable Teachers

July 30, 2010

WASHINGTON — Many teachers are failing at their jobs, and teacher preparation programs are not being held accountable for failing to train them well. That's the conclusion of a new report, released Thursday at the Center for American Progress, that offers solutions for streamlining the standards used to assess teacher education.

“The current policies are not working,” said Edward Crowe, the paper’s author and a consultant on teacher policy. He said that the bar has been set too low in evaluating and graduating teachers; programs are not selective enough; there is no uniformity; and there is not enough follow-up on how teachers fare in the classroom.

In order to ensure that all teacher preparation programs – whether traditional or alternative – are held accountable for their graduates, Crowe proposed that all preparation programs should: develop measures of the impact of new teacher education graduates on their elementary and secondary students' achievement; standardize a classroom observation system that would help the programs identify skills their graduates still lack; keep track of and report the rates at which their teachers continue teaching for at least five years after graduation; solicit feedback from graduates and from their employers; and design a new system of teacher tests.

He stressed the importance of providing clinical practice for teachers, and suggested that the number of teacher tests be cut by at least 90 percent, leaving only those that are uniformly valid across states. This would enable teachers to train in one state and teach in another, and ensure that students who move to another school or another state are receiving the same quality of education.

In addition to being normalized across states, standards should also be normalized within individual programs.

“There’s more difference within traditional and alternative programs than between them,” said Jane West, senior vice president for policy, programs and professional issues at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “It’s hard to find a university these days that doesn’t offer five or six different pathways [such as online or residency programs]…. Things are changing in higher education and it’s very important to have one set of standards."

Even though the members of the AACTE are among those being criticized by the report, the AACTE's goals are in line with Crowe's, Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the AACTE, said in a statement. The report addresses the association's concerns "about the accuracy, fairness and reliability of certain ongoing efforts to address quality and accountability in teacher preparation."

Teacher testing is an area that needs a big change, Crowe said, adding that 96 percent of test-takers passed all state tests in 2006 because the scores were set so low. “That’s not a valid system of accountability, nor is it a reliable system of accountability,” he said.

But part of the problem may stem from the wrong attitude college administrators have about taking ownership of their teacher preparation programs. West said that some universities see teacher preparation as part of their mission, but that this is probably not the norm.

“There was not an interest on the part of college presidents who house these programs,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “They were not interested in what we had to say,” she said about the findings the NCTQ presented to universities. She added that superintendents who were looking to hire teachers were far more interested in the data.

Walsh said state legislatures are receiving a lot of pressure from higher education lobbies “to keep things as is,” but the state legislatures play a part in this as well. According to the report, each state sets its own criteria for defining low-performing programs, but, to avoid getting flagged for low performance, they set the bar so low that only 31 of 1,170 teacher prep programs were considered “at-risk or low performing” in 2006.

Legislatures need to be convinced that the accountability system is meaningful, West said. “If we devise an accountability system that is fair, that is transparent, that is owned by the profession as being meaningful, the political will will begin to unfold,” she said.

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