WASHINGTON — Even though the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulation to bring more accountability to the field of teacher preparation is imperfect, schools of education should still embrace the effort to use data to assess the effectiveness of their graduates in the classroom, the leader of a group of education deans argued Wednesday.
“What’s really upsetting to me and disappointing to me is that we’re actually at an interesting moment where higher education in general is being asked to demonstrate impact,” said Ben Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, a Texas-based organization that wants to improve student-learning outcomes through transforming the field of educator preparation.
“We could actually develop an incredibly robust system of teacher preparation and, frankly, teaching overall, and yet the very people who should be leading that movement are fighting it,” Riley said.
Riley made those remarks Wednesday during a panel discussion titled, “Educating Tomorrow’s Teachers: Are U.S. Education Department Regulations for Schools of Education a Help or a Hindrance?”
If anyone had any doubt that Riley was directing his criticism toward the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) — which has criticized the proposed teacher prep regulation as “federal overreach — those doubts were removed when Riley pointedly asked AACTE President and CEO Sharon P. Robinson, a co-panelist at the event, why she opposed the proposed regulation.
“If I felt those regulations facilitated and leveraged the work in the community to really understand productivity and outcome measures, we would be celebrating them,” Robinson responded.
The proposed regulation calls for states that receive funds under the Higher Education Act to create a rating system for their teacher preparation programs, which would be rated at one of four levels: low performing, at risk, effective or exceptional.
Only programs with high ratings would be eligible to participate in the federal student financial aid program called TEACH grants, an AACTE analysis of the regulation states.
Robinson pointed to efforts her organization has promoted to initiate self-improvement from within, such as the edTPA — a relatively new form of assessment that has teacher candidates demonstrate that they are ready to teach — to show why the regulations are not needed.
She also lamented the Obama administration’s “zeroing out” of the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program, which sought to improve the quality of new teachers through partnerships between schools of education and “high-need” school districts. Colleges had skin in the game with the grants because they were required to find a 100 percent match in funding, Robinson said.
“That’s required because it should be taken as something you do for the duration of the grants,” Robinson said. “This is about changing everything.”
Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning thinktank, said the proposed regulation is “good enough” to move forward because the entry and exit standards for teacher prep programs are too low.
“I do believe it would be appropriate to move forward with the regulation,” Martin said, adding that the regulation is currently under review.
She rejected the idea that the regulation is about “blame and shame” because it gives states the ability to craft the rating systems as they see fit.
“It isn’t this federally determined formula and you’re either a good school or a bad school,” Martin said. “It was actually more sophisticated and well-thought-out than that.”
Frances O’Connell Rust, a senior fellow and director of the Teacher Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, listed a number of theoretical lenses by which to view teacher preparation, including “backward design,” where, in the case of educator preparation, teacher educators would ask: “What is it and who is it we want to see come out of teacher education programs?”
“We want this wonderful teacher,” Rust said. “How do we get it? I think that I want to think about who that wonderful teacher is, and I think about that person who has a specialized knowledge about the content in which they’re teaching and about the pedagogy for doing that.”
Rust said she believes American teacher preparation programs, which last two or three years, do not last long enough and that producing a good teacher takes more like five years, which is the amount of time Germany requires before its teacher candidates become teachers.
Regardless of the type of preparation that teachers have, Rust said teachers need a sense of autonomy and a group of colleagues to stay at a given school.
“They will not stay if those things are not there,” Rust said. “If we think of them as automatons who have to follow the script, it will not happen.”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.