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Legislators want Minnesota’s education programs to publicly disclose how well they’re preparing future teachers

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
State Rep. Dean Urdahl: “The purpose of this bill is to help students who want to attend a school that trains teachers, to have some kind of guide which to attend.”

Under pressure on multiple fronts, Minnesota’s teacher training programs are facing a new push to begin publicly reporting how well they prepare future educators. 

A bill under consideration at the state Legislature — House File 244 — would require the programs to release such information, including how many of their students graduate, and how many are granted licenses and go on to actually teach. The schools would be required to release data both on teacher candidates and those studying to be school administrators.

“The purpose of this bill is to help students who want to attend a school that trains teachers, to have some kind of guide which to attend,” says Rep. Dean Urdahl, a Grove City Republican. “We need more transparent information. Students have a right to know.”

“We think it’s a real opportunity to provide much-needed transparency for colleges of education,” says Holly Kragthorpe, a Minneapolis teacher who is on leave working on policy issues with the teacher advocacy organization Educators for Excellence. Because diversifying Minnesota’s teacher corps, which is 96 percent white, is a policy priority for the group, Kragthorpe says members would like the bill modified to require that the data be disaggregated by race and other indicators.  

The bill’s Senate companion is being carried by Minneapolis DFLer Patricia Torres Ray.

Schools with teacher training programs have been quick to fire back, insisting that they already compile and disclose a mountain of data and asking them to produce more would be burdensome and costly.

The bill comes at a time when teacher-training programs nationwide are under pressure to admit better qualified students and produce evidence that the students they graduate are effective teachers. While the numbers vary tremendously by program, up to half of graduates nationwide do not go on to teach. About half of those who do begin teaching leave the profession within three years.

Which gives rise to two questions: How many students are paying for degrees that will not lead to a job or a sustainable career? And are those degrees adequately preparing graduates for their first year in the classroom, a notoriously hard time? 

There is no agreed upon standard for what kind of practical training new teachers need. And in most urban centers the newest teachers are placed in front of the neediest students. Many critics argue that the typical student-teaching experience of a few weeks is woefully inadequate and a factor in the high attrition rates among new teachers.

Last fall, the Obama Administration announced a plan to steer federal financial aid to programs that graduate students who stay in the profession and whose K-12 pupils show strong growth. A number of education policy groups have also been pushing for change, and new national accreditation standards for the programs are on the way.

The most controversial provision of the federal push — and the proposed legislation — is tying K-12 student test results to other metrics on training program quality. Research varies on the validity of using “value-added” assessments for evaluating teachers, much less the programs that trained them.

At the same time, school administrators often say they can see patterns. A couple of years ago, former Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told higher ed representatives that patterns were so distinctive her district had identified programs that were particularly effective.

Shortly after the Obama Administration announced its new rules, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) issued “Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them,” which argued that a lack of rigor in many programs leads to a disproportionate number of A students who then founder on the job.

Data on program effectiveness can be very hard to come by, particularly for a lay user. The NCTQ, for instance, had to sue to get access to the data it wanted after most of the state’s public institutions refused to share course syllabi and other information.

Last year, MinnPost obtained a list of the rates at which individual institutions’ teaching students pass basic skills exams that were then required for licensure. At 18 of Minnesota’s then-33 teacher preparation programs, fewer than three-fourths of graduates passed all three of the required basic skills tests. At eight of those programs, less than two-thirds of graduates passed. A handful of programs, including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, had very high passage rates.

At the time, the education schools were pushing the Legislature to do away with the exams, which they argued were keeping teacher candidates of color out of the classroom. Lawmakers passed a bill that allows a candidate to submit an average ACT or SAT score instead.

Skills tests are required in 41 states. In 24, students must pass them before admission into a teacher-training program.

At a hearing earlier this week, representatives of the Minnesota Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (MACTE) testified that the bill under consideration here would require their members to re-report data already submitted elsewhere. They also questioned the purpose of the bill.

In a handout supplied to lawmakers, the group identified three places where some of the data the bill contemplates is collected. One, the U.S. Department of Education’s Title II reporting system, is easily accessed, but its mountains of statistics are of little use to a student trying to pick a college.

The other two places where data is submitted are the Board of Teaching’s program approval system, which is not open to the public, and the national association of teacher colleges.

MACTE representatives also objected to the fact that the bill would not require the same data collection from programs in other states that train teachers who are eventually licensed here.

“None of that data is required for candidates prepared out of state, so there’s no way to compare Minnesota candidates with out of state candidates,” says Cyndy Crist, MACTE’s legislative liaison.

And much of the cost of setting up the system would be borne by taxpayers, she adds: “Obviously for public institutions those are taxpayer dollars being used.”

Urdahl says he is hopeful he can address MACTE’s concerns as the bill moves forward. “I don’t know whether they fully understand what my intent was, which was to help college students,” he says. “Those students have a right to know.”

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/27/2015 - 01:21 pm.

    Transparency, eh?

    Student test results are worthless as a measure of teacher-training program efficacy, just as they’re worthless as a measure of teacher efficacy in general. The only real measure of teacher efficacy is observation, combined with academic work portfolios of their students. That would probably hold true for teacher preparation programs, as well – someone with substantial (and recent) classroom experience would need to observe a teacher candidate over an extended period to be able to see changes in presentation, student attentiveness, lesson clarity, etc.

    If the goal is to guess, hopefully with some minimal level of accuracy, whether a prospective teacher is academically prepared, and the rule-makers are determined to use some sort of test, I’d argue that the Graduate Record Examination is, or was, as good as any. Back in the Paleolithic, when I was teaching, a candidate for a graduate degree had to take the GRE before they’d be admitted to grad school, so it ought to be a fair measure – as fair as any standardized test can be, which isn’t always very much – of that candidate’s academic preparation as they leave their undergraduate program.

    I took the GRE after I’d been teaching a couple years, in the delusional hope that I’d somehow be able to afford grad school at the same time I bought a modest home with room for my wife and new baby. I couldn’t afford both, and chose family over grad school.

    I don’t often support current Republican proposals for much of anything, but Mr. Urdahl’s strikes me as an exception. If I were considering a career as a teacher now, I’d certainly want to know how well a particular school’s program seemed to prepare its graduates academically, as well as factoids like graduation rates and retention rates in the classroom over a period of years. Ms. Crist’s objection regarding candidates from out of state is well-taken, and ought to be incorporated into any proposed legislation, especially because, as she suggested, taxpayer dollars will be involved. Frankly, my view is that teacher candidates from other states, graduates of institutions with accreditation similar to those in Minnesota, ought to NOT have to jump through extra hoops just to pad the bottom lines of local institutions. If both schools are accredited by the same organization (in my day, it was the North Central Association), then reciprocity of candidates ought to be automatic. If local schools are afraid they won’t be able to measure up to the same standards as schools in neighboring states, I’m inclined to say that such a view reflects a profound lack of faith in their own programs.

    It’s also useful to remember that colleges and universities nowadays follow (mistakenly, in my view) a corporate model, more often than not. In the corporate model, self-preservation is far higher on the priority list than transparency, so we should not be surprised if schools routinely object to providing this sort of information, since doing so would put program weak spots right out there in the open for everyone to see – and potentially interpret (or misinterpret) for themselves.

    Personally, I graduated from a school which now has an excellent academic reputation, but which was known, when I attended, mostly for being inexpensive. I did not major in Education. I majored in history, with a geography minor, and took enough education courses to qualify for a Bachelor’s in Education. My student teaching experience was in a minority-majority segregated public school, which was interesting in itself, but the practicum lasted only 6 weeks, and I only had a “full load” of daily classes for 2 of those 6 weeks.

    It wasn’t anywhere close to being enough.

    For the most part, I learned how to teach by doing it, with the result that my first year, I’m certain I was fairly awful in a variety of ways, so not especially effective by today’s measures. But I wanted to do it well, so I paid attention to what seemed to work, or not, in class, and what my colleagues at the school were doing, or not. I did plenty of reading, and picked the brains of my new colleagues, both activities when I had spare moments in between lesson plans, grading, and other responsibilities. My classroom improved over time as a result.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/27/2015 - 01:39 pm.

    Know your sources

    Educators for Excellence isn’t just a “teacher advocacy organization.” Its an astroturf group funded by right-wing billionaires, pushing the same corporate “reform” agenda of union-busting and high-stakes testing.

    http://billmoyers.com/2014/03/28/public-education-who-are-the-corporate-reformers/

    The National Council on Teacher Quality is also funded by the same corporate “reformers.” Because it actually puts out reports, it is easy to pick its flawed methodology apart. No one interested in education should take that group seriously.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/06/18/why-the-nctq-teacher-prep-ratings-are-nonsense/

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/27/2015 - 07:36 pm.

    Amazing

    It is amazing how easily people dismiss anything they do not like as “right-wing.” Unfortunately, Mr. Hintz missed a Community Voices article published today by a member of Educators for Excellence group and that really doesn’t look like it is funded by right-wing billionaires” unless, of course, those billionaires are not huge fans of diversity.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/28/2015 - 10:55 am.

      I didn’t miss it

      In fact, I left a comment.

      Educators for Excellence may not look like a group funded by right-wing billionaires, but right-wing billionaires are funding it. That’s just a fact – you can look up where the money comes from. And the purpose of my comments is to help people not be deceived by what this group “looks like”and to understand their true motivations.

      As far as their ideas, I don’t dismiss them because they are right-wing, but rather because they are bad ideas.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/02/2015 - 05:56 pm.

        I don’t understand

        Mr. Hintz, if you oppose just the idea, why are you even bringing up the source of financing? And still how come that organization representing right0wing interests defends diversity?

  4. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/27/2015 - 10:02 pm.

    Yipes …

    With all the journalistic and legislative incompetence out there currently maybe the same oversight suggested here for the educational field should be applied to individuals seeking work in the areas of news reporting and citzen representation. It is time to shine a light on both of these areas of our democratic construct. The gaps in each seem to be overwhelming the process of bringing information to the voters and enacting legislation in benefit of the electorate respectively. Both of these areas demand skills and assessments need to be designed for these endeavors. There are none that I know of existing. Individuals practicing these activities must be tested on a regular basis. I propose these mesuring tools be in place and give measurement at minimally on a quarterly basis. Scores are to reported publicly and wages are to reflect the standing of individuals engaged in these career pursuits. Futhermore balance needs to be brought to these communities to reflect the statisics of the population at large. We must break this widening gap between accurate information and worthwhile representation. Take action now.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 02/28/2015 - 02:26 pm.

    When you need electrical work done on your home you check qualifications, get recommendations, get quotes and take the best electrician for the job. Should be the same for getting an education, find out what school places the most qualified teachers in jobs after graduation. I don’t know how that is right-wing, left-wing or wing-nut. That is how the real world works.

  6. Submitted by cory johnson on 02/28/2015 - 07:02 pm.

    Where is the controversy?

    Am to believe we should add teachers to the list (which includes parents and children) of those we shouldn’t try to hold to any kind of standards? Just keep increasing “investment” until it equals 7/8 rather than 1/2 the state budget? Sounds like a plan.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/02/2015 - 09:04 am.

    Whatever…

    You can play around with the education of teachers all you want but if you think can dump talented teachers into a screwed up educational system and expect them to thrive you’re daft.

    Half the graduates fail to get a job, and half of the graduate who do get jobs leave the profession within three years? That has nothing to do with course education course requirements, but hey, let blame EVERYONE except the people who keep refusing to throw money at the problem.

    Meanwhile, you expect the best and the brightest will try to enter a profession that’s CONSTANTLY under attack and being blamed for every failed student?

    Sure.

  8. Submitted by joe smith on 03/02/2015 - 03:08 pm.

    We’ve thrown billions of dollars at education and we got what we got now!! This is not about throwing money at a problem this is about future teachers making the best decision possible for future employment. They should be able to see what colleges place the most teachers in jobs. As far as teachers deciding to quit the profession, that is their right. I imagine it is hard to be a teacher when you have children that have been taught nothing is your fault by the same teachers teaching them. If you’re a bad student now days you’re from the wrong neighborhood, you’re the wrong color, your school isn’t new enough, your school isn’t up to date enough, you’re from a small town, you’re from a big city on and on the excuses go. Hell, who would want to be a teacher with what they teach our kids.

  9. Submitted by Cyndy Crist on 03/03/2015 - 09:52 am.

    Misleading Lead

    I am puzzled about why Beth Hawkins would begin this article by stating that current efforts would require teacher preparation programs to begin reporting how well we prepare teachers when she knows, and later In the article shares information provided to her by MACTE, about the significant data our programs currently report. They are, of course, not the only ways in which we share information publicly about our programs and their outcomes, and some certainly are not easily read and digested, but that’s a different issue. Her clear suggestion that we don’t want to operate transparently is frankly insulting. And the one-sided nature of the sources she cites makes this piece clearly an example of commentary, not reporting. Happily, productive conversations are taking place with legislators and others to sort through an array of issues regarding the costs, realities, purposes, and values of reporting data differently to the public, and especially focused on making available to students the kinds of information they seek in making decisions about their futures. Those deliberations are much more likely to yield productive outcomes than this article, which does little to fully and fairly inform readers on this important topic.

  10. Submitted by Kathleen Foord on 03/04/2015 - 01:10 pm.

    Let’s Use Data Appropriately

    I’d like to thank Ms. Hawkins for illustrating the very concerns that educators and teacher preparation institutions share when data is reported out of context and used to make inferences that are unfounded.

    Ms. Hawkins is correct in stating that teacher preparation programs already compile and disclose a mountain of publicly accessible data to the federal and state government and to national and state accrediting bodies. But our concerns go beyond the burdensome waste of tax dollars to duplicate reporting efforts. Collecting and reporting additional inaccurate, inappropriate, or unethical data could have unintended, negative consequences for students, employees, careers, programs, and the quality of education. True accountability and transparency are based upon reporting and analyzing hundreds of variables that document the complexity of effective teacher preparation. Teacher preparation programs in Minnesota take our accountability very seriously and this effort requires careful examination of complex data sets to document that each and every program that is approved to license teachers meets high expectations for Minnesota standards.

    Ms. Hawkins agrees that the data is easy to access but that a college student would not want to wade through the data. Luckily for students they don’t need to. Students are guaranteed that every preparation program that is approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching must meet expectations for extensive input data, output data, and continuous improvement data. MACTE is aware that students want to find the right program for their needs and that is why we provide a searchable data sight where anyone can find out which accredited program(s) can help them to become a teacher in a subject or grade area based upon their unique attendance needs. The sight connects them to program websites where additional information and advising help students through their program search and application process.

    Ms. Hawkins labels teacher preparation programs as incompetent based on Basic Skills test results, tests which actually reflect learning that happened before students entered teacher preparation programs. She repeats dated information (2010 to 2013) on the basic skills pass rates for teacher preparation programs implying that the program continues to produce those pass rates. Last year, the legislature recognized the problems associated with these tests and now allows students to also use their ACT and SAT scores which, unlike the MTLE, are comparable to other states. Unfortunately, the use of dated and inaccurate information in the article continues misconceptions rather than correcting them.

    Implying that Minnesota teacher preparation programs give easy A’s is also a conclusion not warranted based on public data. The average GPA of teacher education candidates admitted into programs is 3.34 for undergraduate programs and 3.65 for graduate programs. The candidates have earned the GPAs in content courses from other disciplines and departments. The average GPA for teacher candidates who exit undergraduate programs is 3.46 and for graduate programs the average GPA is 3.80. Those averages do not represent grade inflation, they represent programs holding students to continuing, high standards of performance.

    Finally, Ms. Hawkins ignores some key questions that MACTE provided in our testimony that should shape conversations about meaningfully and fairly collecting and reporting data for appropriate purposes.

    For what purposes is data and reporting needed, and by whom will it be used?
    What type of data and type of reporting match each purpose?
    Is it feasible and reasonable to collect and report data, and if so, how frequently is sufficient for the purpose?
    How are the legal rights to privacy of data protected by the type of data and type of reporting selected?
    With what degree of reliability/validity can data be collected or reported?
    What data can be fairly reported across all teacher preparation programs or licensure options if the purpose is comparison?
    What data needs to be public and for what reason?
    How is misuse of data for inappropriate purposes prevented?
    How is external acquisition and manipulation of data to develop inappropriate grades, ranks, or ratings of either student or programs prevented?

    Our hope is that Ms. Hawkins will also use these questions to guide her future data analysis and reporting.

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