Arne Duncan may continue lambasting teacher preparation programs nation-wide, but Texas could soon give him something to smile about. The State Board for Teacher Certification recently gave initial approval to a proposal authored by veteran state Senator Florence Shapiro that would impose stricter standards on the state’s 177 traditional and alternative teacher prep programs. (Final approval is expected in February, 2010.) Heretofore, program accreditation was based on only one factor: percentage of teaching candidates passing a written certification exam. Shapiro’s two-step plan would raise the combined passing rate of all teacher candidates from 70 to 80 percent by 2012 (a move initiated in Rhode Island last month), and would also establish three other accreditation criteria: mandating evaluations by the principals of schools into which the products of teacher prep programs go to teach, instituting teacher prep program follow-up with certified graduates for at least one year, and ensuring that prep program graduates are improving student achievement for their first three years. Linking student test scores back to teacher training programs would be a big step for Texas; currently, such scores are only used to determine yearly bonuses for teachers. But the current proposal (pdf) leaves undefined the required “improvement in student achievement” of prep program graduates, the details of program follow-up with graduates, or how principal evaluations will be weighted; setting these bars too low and/or making them easy to circumvent, of course, would undermine the changes entirely. It’s also unclear whether a prep program could feasibly stay open without state accreditation (or if the state version is tied to national accreditation organizations like NCATE and AACTE) and if beginning teachers’ student achievement will be averaged over the three years or evaluated year by year (which would be hardly fair for the newbie). We’ll give one cheer for a great first step and reserve the second for when we get more details.
“Teachers’ trainers must make the grade, too,” by Ericka Mellon, The Houston Chronicle, November 1, 2009