The U.S. Department of Education recently released final regulations on teacher preparation that would bring transparency to the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs by gathering information on the success of program graduates. These important policy shifts will require collaboration between schools, districts, and teacher-preparation programs, leading some to deem them “burdensome,” but the incoming secretary of education would do well to support these policies and provide all education stakeholders, from teacher candidates to districts to preparation programs themselves, with critical information for improving teacher effectiveness across the country.
In my eight years teaching in elementary schools, many experiences have shaped my practice, from analyzing the needs of struggling readers with my colleagues to exploring mindfulness and self-regulation strategies in my classroom. But it is still the teacher-reparation program where I started my career that has had the most significant impact on my work as an educator.
When I was deciding how to get my teaching license, however, I did not even pause to consider the quality of my chosen teacher-preparation program. I knew more about the ranking and outcomes for the law schools to which my friends were applying than I did about the relative strengths of various education schools in Minnesota.
No clear way to compare outcomes
Looking back, this now seems bizarre, but for teacher preparation, my experience is not unusual. Unlike law school, medical school, or even undergraduate colleges and universities, there is no clear way to compare the outcomes of teacher-preparation programs. One program may place many teachers in schools, and have a high rate of teacher retention, while another struggles to graduate well-prepared teachers who remain in the classroom long-term.
That’s why I join many teachers in applauding the new regulations They will require states to create a teacher-preparation report card on the success of program graduates, which will include information about employment and licensure rates, candidate and principal satisfaction, and measures of student learning outcomes. This information could be a powerful tool for prospective teachers in choosing an effective program, and for institutions in determining whether their graduates are truly prepared for the challenges of teaching — including right here in Minnesota.
While my program had some shortcomings, I lucked out in that it did provide me with a foundation to be successful. Countless other prospective teachers are not so fortunate — and they are not the only ones who suffer from a lack of information. Principals are left in the dark about which preparation programs train candidates who are likely to meet their students’ needs. School districts cannot use program outcomes to guide hiring practices and more effectively identify teachers who will be successful in their schools. Ultimately, students are disserviced most by this lack of information, since teachers are the single most important in-school factor driving student learning outcomes. By raising the curtain and requiring transparency, the Department of Education is taking another step toward ensuring that our education system works best for children.
Flexibility in measuring impact
Arguably the most contentious piece of the new regulations is the requirement to measure graduates’ impact on student learning, but it is also one of the most important to addressing Minnesota’s opportunity gap. The regulations give states flexibility in determining how they will measure impact on student learning, specifying that “student learning outcomes can be measured by novice teachers’ student growth, teacher evaluation results, and/or another state-determined measure that is relevant to students’ outcomes, including academic performance.”
Politically, the inclusion of student learning outcomes has come under fire from some who argue that this kind of data will lead programs to steer new teachers away from high-needs schools. However, because states have flexibility in determining how they measure student learning, they can create plans that use multiple measures, including student growth. States also have flexibility on how much weight they give each measure and could track the different types of schools in which programs are placing candidates. This would allow states to recognize programs that are successfully preparing a large percentage of their graduates to be effective in high-needs schools so their practices can be replicated.
Some may also worry about the burden that collecting information might present for universities or the state. But Minnesota already passed a similar law in 2015 that requires the Board of Teaching to compile a report card on teacher preparation programs. This report card includes graduation, licensure and employment rates, as well as teacher evaluations, among other metrics. Sharing this information will let strong programs showcase and build upon their success, and give weaker ones feedback to help them improve.
The federal regulations present a real opportunity for Minnesota to think creatively about how to best measure graduates’ impact on student learning, in ways that will help us learn which programs are graduating well-prepared candidates and what practices they’re using so these can be replicated. Equipped with this information, we can better address serious education inequities and improve student outcomes.
Annaka Larson is a first-grade teacher at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary school in St. Paul, and a member of Educators 4 Excellence – Minnesota.
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