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

A bill under consideration at the state Legislature would require teacher training programs in Minnesota to release information on graduation and licensure rates.

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.”
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.”