Weak Links in USDOE Logic to Evaluate Teacher Prep

If I could wave a magic wand, over the next 10 years, I would move towards the use of performance-based assessment for licensure.

My colleague Megan Allen at Mt. Holyoke asked me what I thought about the new proposed teacher preparation reforms coming out of the USDOE. After some discussion, here are my responses to two of her questions. I look forward to reading her perspective next week.

Megan: If you could wave a magic wand, what systems would you put into place to “monitor” (their word, not mine) teacher prep?

Monitor is a federal word often used in legislation. For example, monitoring in Head Start is everything you do to make sure you live up to your grant, and everything the fed does to make sure you live up to your grant. This leaves plenty of gray area. For example, monitoring instruction can include everything from checking lesson plans to directly observing teachers using the Class Assessment Scoring System.

In one of my roles with my Head Start program, designing monitoring systems was part of my responsibilities. My first question was always, “What is already in place?” Then, “How can we minimize intrusion into a functioning ecological system?

This is obviously not the approach the USDOE is taking. If it were interesting in a non-invasive approach the department might ask, “How are teacher prep programs already monitored?” There is an effective system in place that already ranks schools built into the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) standards that accredit teacher preparation institutions. CAEP supports and expects a “culture of evidence” and supports schools in conducting self study as a part of the accreditation process. I think the CAEP, as a governing body is perfectly capable of designing and implementing it’s own “monitoring” processes. If I could wave a magic wand the only thing I would change would be to move towards, over the next ten years, use of performance based assessment of teachers for licensure. This could even take the form of the dissertation process in which students complete coursework and then are supported in completing a performance assessment until their practice meets a threshold of competency. Many colleges allow students to be ABD for up to 7 years. Why not allow a similar structure of All But Performance Assessment (ABPA), for preservice teachers to reach competency before practicing. This would create an opportunity to increase the quality of teaching and preparation because it would actually benefit schools of education to make sure students are ready and help them to pass whatever teacher performance assessment is in place. If it takes more than one semester then there is one less under-prepared teacher in the classroom. The only problem with this is that there are numerous factions intent on using teacher performance assessment as a way to disrupt, instead of strengthen, the teacher preparation process.

Megan: What are the possible implications?

The implications of this policy seems to me to be intended to weaken the foundations of teacher preparation. Sure it would be great if student test scores could be linked to teacher preparation but, there is so much left out of this picture. It does not acknowledge most of what we know about school climate, school culture, principal leadership, student socio-economics, teacher working conditions, etc. etc.

I think linking this to the TEACH teacher prep grants for professionals headed into high needs schools is disastrous and based on flawed reasoning. If the portion of the proposal that includes the punitive measure of loss of TEACH grants goes through, it could create an even wider achievement gap in our country. Future professionals, who are willing to commit to making a difference for at risk students will not be supported in their efforts. As any teacher who works in a high needs school can tell you, teacher agency in a high poverty school is as much about teachers’ commitment to students as their preservice training. I think many professors in teacher prep would agree. It is impossible to learn much of what you need to learn to be effective in a high needs school in a college classroom. This is why programs like VCU’s Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) is able to effectively prepare teachers for the field. The RTR links high quality preparation and a 1 year residency placement with a master teacher mentor. Just consider some of the qualities VCU identifies as “What it Takes” to become a candidate.

  • A call to teach for change.

  • A passion for transforming lives and achieving social justice through education.

  • A commitment to meeting the unique challenges of teaching in an urban classroom.

  • A desire to make the difference for urban students.

  • A longing to serve wherever the need is greatest.

Linking student test scores to teacher prep institutions really seems like a veiled attack on the foundations of teacher preparation. The only rationale for this, that I can think of, is to create room for for-profit and “alternative” options in much the same way charter schools have entered the public school system.

Lets hope the USDOE hears the appeals from the field that this is not the direction our country should go.

What do you thnk?


Image: Me (@jmholland)

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  • marsharatzel

    Monitoring readiness for student teaching

    Dear John,

    I like this thread you’ve started because it is something that is definitely on the radar of the School of Education where I teach.  You asked “Why not allow a similar structure of All But Performance Assessment (ABPA), for preservice teachers to reach competency before practicing. 

    Where I work we do something a bit different but I think it’s in the same vein.

    In order to “qualify” for student teaching, preservice teachers must present a synthesis of all that they’ve learned in the prep program to a panel of professors, K12 principals, K12 classroom teachers, and K12 district administrators.  They have to convince those 5 people that they know enough to be allowed to proceed to the student teaching phase.

    It is an amazing process, and not everyone makes it the first time.  Preservice teachers must take what they’ve book learned and learned from their practicuums, and explain why they’ll be an asset to the collaborating classroom.  They have to know what they want to learn while they’re there, based on their strengths & weaknesses, and what they might have learned that could “given” to the cooperating teacher.

    Talk about a stretch!

    It’s very cool and rigorous, yet everything they do in the years preceeding this “examination” prepares them to really know what they know, know what they don’t know, and know what they need to still learn and/or practice.  I think that sounds very much like the system you proposed.

    I think it is a very authentic way to monitor how well the coursework and field work have prepared students.  The only tweak I’d add is something that ties the student teaching experience to expand on the reflective analysis they’ve already done.

    Does that sound plausible?

    • JohnHolland

      Prospectus Teacher


      Your college’s system sounds very solid and valuable to all parties. I think that so important that prospective teachers know that “they might not make it.” Going into the preparation process. This puts the onus of preparation on the candidate as well as the college. It seems to hold the parties responsible parties accountable in meaningful ways. The USDOE’s system seems so after the fact and the damage is already done. With out setting up the accountability before the consequences matter for students.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • ReneeMoore

    Treat Teacher Prep Like Other Professional Programs?


    I totally agree with your analysis of the USDOE proposal and the probable outcomes. Why they want to spread what has proven to be a bad idea for addressing accountability in K12 to teacher prep is subject for another blog, so I’ll not hijack this thread with that right now. 

    CAEP, particularly with the new standards and processes it is developing is fully capable of providing the type of monitoring the Feds and the public need for teacher ed programs. One problem there, however, is that submitting to CAEP accreditation is still voluntary in most places, and there are a good number of teacher prep programs that choose not to participate.

    What if teacher education programs were treated like other professional preparation programs (nurses, accountants, lawyers, doctors….) and part of their credibility rested on how many of their graduates attempted and obtained professional certification (not just initial licensure)? Many programs have already integrated National Board standards into their coursework and clinical evaluations.

    I ran that idea by some teacher ed deans, however, and got nothing but icy stares…especially when I suggested that at least some of the instructors in teacher ed, particularly those in charge of supervising student teaching and other practicuums should themselves be Board Certified. I would think such an approach might bring more respect to the much maligned teacher ed programs and the profession in general.

    PS: Here’s what NBPTS sent to the USDOE about those teacher prep regulations http://www.nbpts.org/sites/default/files/documents/Policy/nbpts_comments_on_teacher_preparation_regulations.pdf


    • JohnHolland

      There you Go Again


      You got icy stares for suggesting something that made people uncomfortable? I can’t believe that happened. 😉

      Thank you for sharing. Your perspective seems to make sense as much as Marsha’s. I think your ideas about NBCTs being involved in teacher prep are valuable. As you know, I strongly believe we need to start to blur the lines between those who prepare teachers and accomplished teachers who lead the profession.