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August 04, 2009
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You've probably heard that NCTQ president Kate Walsh and new Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman testified in Congress this week on issues related to teacher quality. (Snippets of their testimonies burst into useful sound bites all over Twitter.) One of the most quotable, shared here by Huffington Post, came from Walsh when she said it's ?easier to get into an education school than it is to qualify to play college football.?
Ouch. (No offense to college athletes.) There's no question that the quality of education schools varies greatly. Even one of the more defendable components of traditional educator training, student teaching, has come under recent fire. That teacher preparation programs are often woefully inadequate seems to be a well-accepted fact among reformers and traditionalists alike. But how to change that seems is a bit more up for debate.
There are a bevy of policies that could improve teacher quality at different points during preparation: at the front (higher entrance standards), middle (harder coursework; teacher residencies happening earlier to weed out non-performers prior to their last semester of college), or tail ends of training (check out the extraordinarily intuitive exit requirement that New York's ?Relay? School of Ed is installing ? a teacher actually has to prove that students learn under her purview before graduating).
And then there are attempts to improve teacher quality once they're out in the field, such as Ohio's just-passed requirement that teachers in the lowest performing schools statewide be re-tested in subject-area knowledge. (Shouldn't we raise the bar for content-area knowledge before teachers are given their own classrooms and teach for several years, to kids in the neediest schools nonetheless?)
I've pondered this question a lot, wondering which is the most effective, fairest, and/or most cost-effective way to separate the educator wheat from the chaff. (The most glaring concern with raising the bar on entrance, to me at least, would be crowding out teachers from racially and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds, as those factors are strongly correlated to standardized tests like the SAT or GRE.)
I'm not sure there's a clear answer, but one thing I think everyone concerned about the quality of teacher preparation programs can agree on is that the more data we have, the better. Ohio (as other states have already done) passed a requirement that the Chancellor of the Board of Regents collect and report academic growth data for students, tracing them to teachers who came from various teacher prep programs. The data will be aggregated and can illustrate persistently low- and high-performing schools of education. ?Should there be glaring discrepancies in quality, Ohio could make funding performance-based and force the ed schools themselves to figure out the best strategies to improve their student teachers.
?-Jamie Davies O'Leary