Top education experts from around the country discussed teacher preparation program reform, performance-based assessments for teachers, and how to identify core capabilities that every teacher should embody during a panel convened by Education Sector last week.
The panelists gathered on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement to reform teacher preparation in three key ways: more detailed reporting of program graduates’ effectiveness, including student achievement growth during their first two years; competitive scholarships that are awarded to students in their final year of education; and expanding funding for minority-serving teacher preparation programs.
Louisiana and Tennessee were lauded in Duncan’s plan, titled “Our Future, Our Teachers,” because of their statewide systems that link student achievement growth to the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. George Noell, executive director of strategic research and analysis at the Louisiana Department of Education, sat on the panel and offered his advice based on his experiences with the state’s Value-Added Teacher Preparation Program Assessment Model since 2003.
“This is tough work. At moments it will get tense; people will start wanting to point fingers … ‘It can’t be me!’ and that is very difficult to keep struggling through,” Noell told the other four panelists and more than 100 guests at the Capital Hilton event. “The folks who train teachers did not get in the business to be bad … but it’s happening. They have never had a tool to measure their own success that was [dependent] on kids’ outcomes. Trust that they want to be great, support them and challenge them to be great, and you will find that you will have powerful allies.”
Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, chimed in, acknowledging the long road of reform ahead. She re-stated the importance of identifying “programs that can get it done and programs that cannot,” but went a step further than Duncan’s report when saying government should pull the funding plug on low-performing programs.
“We expect programs will be confronted with some really discomforting information that they will have to address,” she said.
Panelists also spent a sizeable chunk of the 90-minute discussion talking about performance-based reviews for teachers. Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of University of Michigan’s School of Education, praised Duncan’s plan for bringing assessments “front and center,” but still cautioned that there’s much to be done – namely establishing the standards or core capabilities from which to assess teachers.
“What we have right now is a system that’s entirely unaccountable for whether teachers can do the work,” Ball said. “We don’t have any other occupation or profession … in this country which does so little to name and then assess whether individuals who are asked to do the work can do it.”
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, seconded Ball, saying the profession “absolutely needs” to establish common core competencies, which would help teacher preparation programs adequately train and sufficiently assess their students before graduation. Teaching, after all, can be taught.
“I don’t know why we treat teacher education as such an unknown and why we insist on placing so many young men and women in classrooms without giving them essential knowledge,” Walsh said. “There is such presumption that this is just a free-for-all and there is no real training that does help and we’ve got to just dump people in the classroom and let them get over it and let them learn their own way.”
That’s not the way it should be, she said. Anyone who wants can learn to be an effective teacher, if provided proper and sufficient education and training. But what exactly qualifies as adequate preparation? And who will determine those standards?
Noell said that, based on his experience, states do not have the resources or tools to undertake this responsibility.
“My perception is … states currently are not built or resourced to be effective partners in this,” he said. “It is not that it’s impossible, but to have substantive evaluators who are calibrated to judge rigorously, who will travel the thousands of square miles in these states and get in those classrooms and sit down and watch and provide substantive feedback, it’ll be hard.”
Walsh agreed, saying it’s not the proper role of states, and Ball added that she wasn’t proposing that states do it.
“But we have to distribute the work of building the assessments,” she said.
Which led panelists back to square one: Who?
“I agree with you,” Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at Education Sector, told Ball, “that we need to get to that granularity of teaching, but where is that conversation occurring? Who’s ultimately responsible for making sure it does anything and actually improves teacher preparation programs?”
See full video coverage of the event, including Duncan’s announcement, on our website.