In an effort to get more effective teachers into America’s classrooms, seven states have joined a new initiative to “strengthen” teacher licensure standards and “raise the bar” on the approval process for teacher prep programs.
The initiative — led by the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, and formally called the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, or NTEP — grew out of a “call to action” that CCSSO issued late last year and adds to the growing momentum to make university-based teacher preparation programs more accountable for student achievement.
While it is questionable if becoming a teacher will become tougher in the seven states that have joined the new network, Mary-Dean Barringer, program director for Education Workforce at CCSSO, says she is not sure, but notes that “it’s going to be different, and I think that’s a good thing, and the states would agree.”
Barringer said the way that teachers are recruited and prepared must “change in pretty dramatic ways” in order to help K-12 students meet new standards and expectations, such as the those espoused by a set of education standards known as the “Common Core.”
The states participating in the two-year pilot project will focus on reform in three areas: licensure, program approval and collecting and analyzing more data to improve teacher prep programs. The seven states that joined NTEP are Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Washington.
Barringer said states should measure “how effective the candidates graduating from these programs are at impacting student achievement and student learning.”
Data systems, she said, should be in place to identify programs that are doing “exceptionally well” at preparing teachers and to close programs that “have a long history of not being effective in doing this.”
Barringer added CCSSO has secured $4 million to finance the project and plans to give $100,000 grants to the participating states during the first year to carry out the work. She said second-year grants will be contingent upon the kind of progress made during the first year.
Barringer declined to identify who is financially backing the project because the donors wish to remain anonymous for two reasons. One reason is to keep the focus on the work at hand.
“The other is this is the first time they’ve invested in this,” Barringer said. “They want to be a little bit behind the scenes right now, so we’re respecting that request.”
Some critics say the NTEP initiative is not likely to make a major or meaningful difference anytime soon, if at all.
“My sense is that it’s not changing the trajectory,” said Aaron Pallas, a sociology and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who follows teacher prep reform. “It’s carrying along things that are already happening.”
Of the three areas that the NTEP initiative has targeted for reform — licensure, program approval and data collection — Pallas said, “none of those is going to transform who winds up being certified as a teacher in Connecticut three years from now.”
Pallas added, “It’s going to take longer [than] that for changes in programs to work their way through. You’re not going to change the mix of people who are going to be teacher candidates overnight.”
Pallas also said there is a lack of evidence that tougher admission and licensure standards will actually help raise student achievement.
“It’s a reasonable hypothesis if you think that raising standards is going to result in better prepared teachers able to help generate better outcomes,” he said. “At this point, I don’t know that we have any evidence that that is sure to happen. It might happen.”
The notion that tougher entry standards for teachers will raise student achievement emanates from research that has shown admission standards are higher for teachers in countries such as Finland and Singapore, where students outperform U.S. students on standardized tests.
For instance, in the last month in New York, Governor Andrew C. Cuomo cited the teacher admission standards of other countries when he announced that the State University of New York, or SUNY, had adopted a measure to raise the admissions requirement for teacher and principal preparation programs to a minimum GPA of 3.0.
“Only about thirty percent of [America’s] teachers come from the top third of their college graduating class,” Cuomo lamented in a recent statement about the measure. “In countries with the strongest education systems, teacher candidates come from the top 10 percent of their high school or college graduating class.”
Pallas is skeptical that following the example of other countries as it relates to teacher candidate requirements will lead to better academic outcomes for students in the United States.
“The problem is there are too many variables that differentiate the U.S. from these other countries,” Pallas said. “Certainly, the selectivity of the teachers is one of them, but there are many other things going on at the same time — ethnic homogeneity, poverty rates at the country level. …
“Isolating teacher selection as the thing that’s most important, I don’t think we have the evidence to do that,” Pallas added.
Barringer conceded various aspects of Pallas’ points.
“Some of our state chiefs are raising the same question about whether it will raise achievement,” Barringer said of tougher admission standards for teachers.
When asked if she was aware of any research that could allay those concerns, Barringer said, “There may be. I just don’t know of it.”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim is a 2013-14 Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at Columbia University, where he is examining the impact of teacher prep reform. He can be reached at nycwriter360@ yahoo.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at nycwriter360.