4 lessons for teacher education reform

What we can learn about teacher prep from research, other countries, and other professions.

Yesterday the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) released “The Changing Teacher Preparation Profession: A Report from AACTE’s Professional Education Data System (PEDS)” at a National Press Club briefing in Washington, D.C. The report offers “a current look at progress and challenges in higher-education-based teacher preparation.” A few highlights from the report:

  • Contrary to many perceptions, teacher preparation programs are admitting academically 2013-peds-annual-report-covercompetitive candidates into their programs.
  • Extensive clinical experiences are being incorporated in higher-education-based teacher preparation programs.
  • Most teacher preparation programs collect data on their graduates but do not have access to state data.
  • Teacher preparation programs are rising to the challenge of infusing technology into coursework.

I encourage you to read carefully the recent research of Kirabo Jackson, an economist from Northwestern University, who found that teachers whose VAM ratings were high were not the ones responsible for ensuring positive student outcomes on noncognitive measures, and vice versa.

Yes, education schools as well as alternative certification programs need to be accountable for producing graduates who are ready to teach. Ironically, no other profession assembles this kind of evidence—primarily because they don’t see it as useful. But professions like medicine and nursing assemble more concrete and helpful evidence—like the edTPA, developed by AACTE and Stanford University—to inform which programs are getting the job done, or not.

Lesson 3: Learn from top-performing nations—invest in clinical prep!
I just returned from observing the deliberations of ministers of education and teacher union leaders at the third annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession. All top-performing nations invest in teacher education—and second-tier countries like Germany are committing to placing more emphasis on preservice preparation of new recruits before instituting the kinds of teaching evaluation systems proliferating in the United States.

But most importantly, the governments of top-performing nations not only recruit top candidates, but they also pay full freight for extensive clinical preparation of them before allowing them to teach independently. There is no such thing as Teach for Finland or Teach for Singapore. And yesterday I learned that Cuba is already doing what we should be doing: creating a seamless system of teacher development that begins in university programs and continues in the form of long-term professional development in their K-12 schools.

Lesson 4: Universities are already preparing 21st-century teachers; why promote those that train only for the 20th century?
The AACTE report offers powerful examples from a number of institutes of higher education, including the University of Central Florida, California State University-Fresno, and the University of Cincinnati, whose education schools are preparing teachers to teach digital natives and second language learners—and also focus on global competencies. This is the real stuff of teacher education for today and tomorrow.

At the press conference, I asked why policymakers, and so many Inside-the-Beltway policy wonks, are so fascinated with shortcut alternative certification programs. These programs at best give future teachers an opportunity to teach students to pass muster on 20th-century standardized tests that are built on 19th-century principles of teaching and learning. We need alternative pathways into teaching, but not more truncated training regimes that undermine solid preparation.

And teachers themselves—like my teaching colleagues in the CTQ Collaboratory revealed in a powerful Education Week series—are speaking up about how and why our nation needs to ante up on the right kind of teacher preparation.

Our nation, because of low salaries, limited preparation, and poor working conditions, has to hire about 250,000 new teachers a year. Our nation’s policy leaders must think differently about how to invest in teacher education—especially considering the $1 billion raised (and spent) by Teach for America over the last five years to place a few thousand Teach for America recruits annually into our highest-needs schools. I have several action steps in mind, for both teacher educators and policymakers, which I will share in a follow-up post tomorrow.

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