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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