On Friday, we’re hosting what is sure to be a lively discussion about reform in teacher preparation programs. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan first will release his plan for teacher education reform and improvement. Then, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and Teach For America Founder and CEO Wendy Kopp will chime in with their thoughts, and afterward, a distinguished panel will offer their own insights.
Included on that panel – moderated by our Executive Director Richard Lee Colvin – is George Noell, the executive director of strategic research and analysis at the Louisiana Department of Education. In Louisiana, officials are linking the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs to student achievement growth through their Value-Added Teacher Preparation Program Assessment Model.
This month, the Board of Regents met and released overview data from 2010-11, its fifth consecutive year, that tells them whether low-performing programs have improved. This fall, the board will distribute breakdown data to each institution that describes its strengths and weaknesses. Every facet of a teacher preparation program scores between one and five (one is the highest) based on student achievement:
One: student growth exceeds that of experienced teachers
Two: student growth is comparable to experienced teachers
Three: student growth is comparable to new teachers
Four: student growth is below that of new teachers
Five: student growth is significantly below that of new teachers
So what happens when a program receives a four or five? I called Dr. Jeanne Burns, associate commissioner for teacher and leadership initiatives at the Louisiana Board of Regents, to find out.
When this occurs, Burns said, it is said to go into “programmatic intervention,” which means school officials must zero-in on their data – according to grade span and content area – and make appropriate changes to their curriculum and staff.
This year, the one school that remains in programmatic intervention is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The following specific programs have been identified as low-performing: undergraduate language arts program, undergraduate social studies and alternative certification in science, according to a PowerPoint presentation delivered at the Regents meeting.
Burns talked specifically about the undergraduate language arts program, which first entered programmatic intervention two years ago. Since then, officials have been able to use the data provided by the state to identify that student growth suffered specifically in writing competency in first to fifth grade, Burns explained. Thus, university officials changed their syllabus, trained staff, and offered professional development in an effort to improve this, she said.
“We’ve very optimistic now,” she added.
Burns was also careful to note that a program in programmatic intervention does not mean that the entire program or institution is at fault. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, for example, has an outstanding special education program that scored a one, she said. And the alternative certification in language arts also received a four, like the undergraduate program, two years ago, but it left programmatic intervention this year – with a score of three – after adding a language arts course.
Burns called the information “very valuable.”
“Even our universities that are at level three or two, which is not bad, want to improve their programs to a two or one,” she told me.
My colleagues here say that more states should follow Louisiana’s lead, but they shouldn’t go about it alone; the federal government needs to step up to provide a more streamlined, effective approach. In a January policy brief, titled “A Measured Approach to Improving Teacher Preparation,” they outline three crucial ways – one just like Louisiana’s data system – to reward rigor and improve accountability in teacher preparation:
- Create a framework for assessing and improving teacher preparation programs by defining the learning outcomes of those graduates, recording employment and retention rates of graduates, and identifying state labor market demands for teachers.
- Establish voluntary, competitive grants for states and institutions that create statewide data systems that follow teachers from their university programs to their schools. Also, drive money toward existing, successful teacher preparation programs, like the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin that expanded to Cleveland State University.
- Improve teacher-focused financial aid by eliminating TEACH grants and instead, expanding the loan forgiveness program so that both states and the federal government are contributing dollars, and the money arrives in teachers’ hands earlier than five years.
These recommendations, if implemented, would fill a huge gap of vital information necessary for the assessment and continuous improvement of teacher preparation programs. It would allow policymakers to reward top preparation programs that could then share their practices with others. It would also allow states to identify low-performing programs and address those problems before they trickle down to the classroom level.
Elena Silva, our senior policy analyst and one of the authors on this brief, will also be on the panel at Friday’s event. As I said, it promises to be a lively discussion.
If you can’t be there in-person, watch it via our live webcast here.