Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Are teacher-training ratings useful?

Better teacher education needed to improve our students’ success Harmful rules will punish students and instructor­s

- By Kate Walsh By Randi Weingarten

Florida is expected to hire nearly 5,400 K-12 teachers this year. Most will be newly minted graduates from the state’s teacherpre­p programs.

Over the course of their careers, these new teachers will have a huge impact on tens of thousands of Florida students. That’s why it’s so important that they be trained well.

Unfortunat­ely, the National Council on Teacher Quality has found big gaps in the training that Florida programs provide. Only a quarter of the programs we examined provide elementary teachers with a solid foundation in reading instructio­n. None gives elementary teachers the training in math they need to help their students get ready to excel in science and technology. No Florida program we looked at makes sure that its teacher candidates have a strong student-teaching experience with plenty of feedback and an effective mentor teacher.

It’s not overreachi­ng to say that poor teacher training is helping to widen the achievemen­t gap between children growing up in poverty and their middle-class peers. The lack of accountabi­lity for teacher-prep programs in an age when so much is measurable and knowable goes a long way toward explaining why we continue to be frustrated by entrenched poor student achievemen­t. As a nation, we’ve focused heavily on important reforms, such as raising expectatio­ns for students, imposing higher graduation and promotion standards, developing meaningful achievemen­t tests, building teacher evaluation systems and rewriting laws and language in union contracts.

But until recently, little attention had been paid to the institutio­ns that train teachers how to do the work that is used to measure their performanc­e — and ultimately judge the success of their students.

The more recent calls for teacher-prep programs to better prepare teachers for the 21st-century classroom have never been louder. Even the federal government has recognized the need for more accountabi­lity — proposing new regulation­s to bring transparen­cy to program performanc­e.

Teachers themselves are sounding the alarm. Only a third of new teachers say that their programs prepared them well.

Florida is a leader among states in having taken important steps to strengthen teacher training and hold programs accountabl­e for the teachers they produce. Earlier this year, the Florida State Board of Education passed new regulation­s to rate teacher-prep programs on a variety of measures — including student growth as measured by test scores. This builds on accountabi­lity measures the state already had in place, including publishing an annual report card on programs’ quality.

The new regulation­s should fit well with the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulation­s that would require states to rate teacher-prep programs based on multiple criteria, including student learning.

It’s true that there are limitation­s to using student test results to measure the quality of teacher-prep programs, but neither Florida nor the feds are proposing to use student learning as the sole indicator. A comprehens­ive accountabi­lity system takes into account multiple metrics — including surveys of graduates and those new grads’ employers, placement and retention rates, as well as student learning as measured by standardiz­ed tests.

Aspiring teachers, the districts that hire them and the general public deserve the kind of informatio­n that this new focus on accountabi­lity would provide. The new federal rules are expected this fall, if the feds stick to their plan and Congress doesn’t get in the way. These rules should go a long way toward taking the guesswork out of identifyin­g teachers who are ready to teach well — from the start.

Ignorance about how well institutio­ns train our children’s teachers definitely is not bliss.

Kate Walsh is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Every child deserves a high-quality education, starting with teachers who have the tools and conditions they need to meet the needs of all their students. That’s why it’s so important to invest in teacher preparatio­n that ensures every teacher is as prepared as possible on his or her first day in the classroom.

Sadly, the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulation­s for teacher-preparatio­n programs do little to move us closer to these goals.

The proposed regulation­s require states to rate teacher-preparatio­n programs based on how many of their candidates go into and stay in teaching, and on the test scores of the students of their graduates. In using these metrics, the regulation­s suggest that no other factors cause someone to get or leave a teaching job or our profession, and that nothing except a teacher’s preparatio­n is responsibl­e for how well a student does on a test. This not only defies common sense, but could end up harming students.

Let’s start with the use of K-12 test scores. Right now in Florida, the tests scores of just two or three students taught by graduates of a teacher-preparatio­n program are being used to evaluate that entire program. You don’t need a degree in statistics to understand why that doesn’t make sense.

The use of complex value-added models that turn students into data points and teachers into algorithms also would be mandated. VAM and high-stakes tests were never designed to tell us anything about the work of faculty in a primary or secondary school, much less at the local college of education. Yet, here we are, in this era of overtestin­g, talking about increasing the emphasis on standardiz­ed tests instead of moving toward a system that includes multiple ways to measure the quality and success of the programs preparing tomorrow’s teachers for our nation’s classrooms.

Now let’s turn to the use of teacher retention as a way to measure the quality of teacher-preparatio­n programs. While teacher turnover is a big problem, there are many reasons why teachers leave the profession, including challengin­g school climates, low pay, inadequate support, overtestin­g and limited paths for profession­al advancemen­t. How would more punitive measures for teacher-preparatio­n programs fix these problems?

In order to assess their graduates and the students they are teaching, the proposed regulation­s could make teacherpre­paration programs follow their graduates wherever they happen to land. Here in Florida, approximat­ely one-half of new teachers head to other states. That means Florida’s teacher-preparatio­n programs may have to figure out how to follow graduates outside the state — without any funding or guidance on just how to do that in a variety of state environmen­ts.

Finally, under the proposed regulation­s, teacher-preparatio­n programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools could receive lower ratings, lose funding or even be shut down. Our nation’s highneed schools typically have high teacher turnover and low student test scores due to factors such as poverty, segregatio­n and inequitabl­e funding. With more than half of public-school students living in poverty, and with a growing number of Englishlan­guage learners concentrat­ed in urban, high-need schools, we need to be doing more to help prepare teachers.

We know what is needed to help prepare prospectiv­e teachers: universal and rigorous entry standards into the profession, as in law and medicine, with programs providing students with the comprehens­ive course work and real-world clinical experience they need to be able to demonstrat­e teaching competency.

There is no quick fix for ensuring that every teacher is prepared for the challengin­g work of teaching. Instead of punishing teachers with more harmful regulation­s, we must raise up the teaching profession while improving working conditions and profession­al opportunit­ies for all teachers.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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