Five reasons why we need to embrace new teacher preparation reforms

If we value great schools, we need strong teachers. But far too many teacher preparation programs are not producing them.

The bar for entry is way too low. The courses are disconnected from the reality of classrooms. The on-the-job clinical training is too short. Rookies are not ready to teach when they land in the most challenging schools, and they don’t have the specialized credentials needed most in the work force.

A new set of teacher preparation reforms announced yesterday by the Obama Administration and initiated by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan aims to fix much of what ails this industry.

This is long overdue and deserves our support.

In a nutshell, the goal of these new regulations is promote transparency and strong outcomes among the 2,400-plus teacher prep programs that enroll nearly half a million aspiring educators. The aim is to reward the good programs, improve the middling ones, and transform the bad.

These programs have three years to get their act together—next year to plan, the following to pilot, the year after to fully roll out­–and no program will lose any federal grant money until 2021.

A diverse set of partners have weighed in with their support, while one union critique called it “flawed” and “ludicrous” and a few others have groused that the reforms are “costly, complex and burdensome” and another example of federal overreach.

I won’t waste too much time on AFT President Randi Weingarten’s knee-jerk opposition, which is driven solely by the inclusion of student learning outcomes as one of many measures of whether prep programs are producing effective novice teachers. She knows full well that states will have a great deal of flexibility in how they define student outcomes, and that colleges sending lots of graduates to high-need schools won’t be punished unless states use a narrow measure like state test proficiency. Randi’s working against her own self-interest in her haste to reject a comprehensive attempt to elevate the teaching profession.

Kate Walsh–president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which led the push for teacher-prep reform–said she never expected the rules “to see the light of day” but she’s “happy to be wrong.” She added:

“I see it as a tremendous opportunity because at no other point in the history of teacher education in the United States has the field been forced to ask itself if it is really adding value, and if not, what it needs to do to change.”

And here’s an excerpt of Ed Reform Now’s Michael Dannenberg’s excellent analysis on the new regulations. In no particular order, here are five reasons why we should applaud this initiative:

  1. Year after year and grade after grade, racial minority and low-income children are assigned a stream of underprepared rookie teachers.  In first grade they get a rookie teacher; in second grade they get a rookie teacher; in third grade they get a rookie teacher. . . Why is it poor, Black, and Latino kids disproportionately get rookie teachers who have to learn how to teach on the job? Teacher preparation is an education equity issue. The kids who need the most should be getting the best-trained, most effective teachers, not the least.  The regulations should at least aid in an effort to ensure that rookie teachers are more prepared on Day 1. 
  1. Hopefully, the new regulation will make universities less eager to treat education schools like ATM machines. Colleges and college presidents will have an additional external incentive to invest in the quality of their teacher preparation programs lest they be rated poorly very publicly and lose federal TEACH loan forgiveness / grant eligibility. In short, the regulatory framework is designed to dissuade universities from treating schools of education like cash cows.
  1. The most tangible impact of the regulation may prove to be in driving better labor market matching, because teacher preparation programs will be held accountable for candidate employment outcomes.  Currently, there is an overproduction of aspiring suburban, elementary school teachers and an underproduction of math and science secondary school teachers.  Many colleges don’t care and will admit anyone they can collect tuition from who wants to be an elementary school teacher regardless of his or her likelihood of success or finding a job.  Schools of education should be producing more math science teachers and other teachers prepared to work in needy schools with diverse populations.  That’s why groups like the Council of Great City Schools are supportive of the Obama teacher preparation reforms.
  1. The new teacher preparation regulation appears consistent with ESSA and the Obama rebalancing of responsibility for education reform and improvement to the state level – with federal guardrails. The Obama regulation puts the states on the spot.
  2. It’s groundbreaking to tie teacher education program quality to access to Title IV (student loan) aid. Remember the Obama college ratings proposal that would tie college quality to eligibility to participate in federal financial aid programs? Well, this is that proposal come to fruition, but for a subset of higher education (teacher preparation programs) and based on the quality assessments of states as opposed to the federal government.
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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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