Teacher Preparation

Report: Teacher Prep Reform Gets It Way Wrong

Teacher prep reform efforts might be misguided, according to a new study released this week. A team of researchers affiliated with the National Education Policy Center housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education examined four national initiatives set up to improve teacher quality, each with some form of accountability.

As the report stated, "Teacher preparation has emerged as an acutely politicized and publicized issue in United States education policy and practice, and there have been fierce debates about whether, how, by whom and for what purposes teachers should be prepared."

The researchers set out to understand two primary aspects of all of those programs: what claims proponents make about how their initiative will improve teacher preparation and thereby help solve "the teacher quality problem" and what evidence they have to support their claims.

The four programs examined encompassed:

As the researchers explained in their report, "Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence," these four initiatives propose "different accountability mechanisms and theories of change." Each is run by "different institutions and agencies, including governmental offices, professional associations and private advocacy organizations." And each assumes that "accountability" is essential to the reform, whether that comes in the form of "public assessment, rating and ranking of states, institutions, programs and/or teacher candidates."

The researchers draw two conclusions. First, three of the four programs (HEA regulations, CAEP accreditation and NCTQ reviews) offer "only thin evidence" to bolster their claims about how their policy mechanisms will improve programs. What the proponents of those initiatives assume, the report stated, is a straight line connection between implementing "public summative evaluations" and improving the quality of teacher prep programs. Summative evaluations "intended to influence policy decisions" don't necessarily provide the kind of details needed to continually improve the program, they pointed out. "The irony here is that while these policies call for teacher education programs and institutions to make decisions based on evidence, the policies themselves are not evidence-based," the authors wrote.

The fourth program, edTPA, supplies "more evidentiary support," but even then, achieving broad implementation and wide "professional acceptance" may be tough to accomplish.

The second conclusion is that although all of the accountability initiatives covered in the evaluation "expressly" address educational inequality, underlying most of them is what the researchers referred to as "thin equity." Such a perspective suggests that "school factors" — but especially teachers — are the "major source" of educational inequality and that filling that gap with "access to good teachers" is the solution. What that viewpoint ignores, the authors noted, is that "teachers account for a relatively limited portion of the overall variance in student achievement, and it does not acknowledge that inequality is rooted in and sustained by much larger, longstanding, and systemic societal inequalities."

The report offered a list of policy recommendations to consider as groundwork in any effort related to reforming teacher preparation, including these:

  • Policymakers must acknowledge (and address) the many factors that influence student learning — not just teacher quality, but also the impacts of poverty, community resources and other dynamics;
  • Systems for evaluating teacher preparation need to go beyond simple grades and provide results that can be used to help change and improve curriculum, practice-based activities and assessments;
  • The focus needs to move away from a "primarily bureaucratic" or "market-based" perspective and toward one that positions teacher education as a professional mandate. There also needs to be acknowledgment that supporting and preparing teachers is a shared responsibility among teacher education programs, schools and policymakers; and
  • The evaluation process for teacher preparation programs needs to move away from "single-measure tests" and consider multiple forms of assessment of teacher performance and student learning, avoid basing evaluations on students' test scores and recognize that these programs have many goals and purposes, all of which should be taken into account as part of the evaluation program.

The report is available on the center's Web site.

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