Should Teacher Education Programs Be Measured by Teacher Effectiveness? Assessing Teacher Education Programs.

There is an irony: the NYU Steinhardt Policy Breakfast is held the same day as long delayed release of Teacher Data Reports – the value-added scores of 18,000 teachers in grades 3-8 in New York   City. The NYU series, Teacher Quality/Effectiveness: Defining, Developing, and Assessing Policies and Practices, is both timely, informative and raises more questions that it can answer.

Mary Diez, the Dean of School of Education at Alverno College and Andrew Porter, the Dean of the School of Education University of Pennsylvania struggled to tie teacher effectiveness to teacher education. In the question period I asked:

How would you feel about listing the name of school at which the teacher received their education degree next to their score on the value-added teacher data report?

A sprinkle of applause and laughter, that nervous laughter when you know you hit the right note.

Increasing numbers of teachers start teaching before they take education courses, Teacher for America and other alternate certification programs are growing across the nation. Are they as effective as teachers who complete traditional teacher ed programs? Porter was frank: we do not have enough data to answer many of the crucial questions.

Is the key to effective teaching the innate ability of the teacher or the quality of the teacher education program, the value-added of the program? Are some candidates predisposed to teaching? In other words, Is there a teaching gene?

Do some teacher education programs produce teachers with higher retention rates than others, and, if so, why?

Mary Diez and Kate Walsh have been debating the issue in the periodical forum, In Education Next  they joust,

Kate Walsh … demonstrates that traditional education course work, typically required by certification standards, has never been shown … even by it’s more ardent champions to have a payoff in the classroom.

Mary Diez contends … new standards for teacher education will ensure that teachers are well-equipped to work effectively with learners.

Diez’s college, Alverno College, an elite Catholic women’s college has a student enrollment of 2,759 and a full-time faculty of 118, Alverno graduates who enter teaching have a five year 85% retention rate. Of course, their student body is select. Alverno has championed the use of video-taping of student lessons and careful examination of practice before teachers commence their teaching careers.

Quality does count.

Ronald Ferguson in his Certification Test Scores, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement  shows us that pre-service certification exams are good predictors of increased scores on standardized exams of students. Of course, we don’t know whether they are more successful in teaching to the test, or, in overall achievement.

We do know that teachers increase in effectiveness as measured by student achievement data for the first 4-5 years and then level off. They do not lose effectiveness as longevity increases. Experienced teachers might bring other skills in dealing with students and parents – we have no evidence, and, too often, on-going professional development is weak or non-existent. Rather than viewing teaching as a collaborative enterprise teachers are isolated in classrooms and “measured” by the test scores of students. Teaching to the test becomes the norm.

Just as we expect student classroom content to be rigorous we should also expect the content of teacher preparation courses to be rigorous. Content counts. You can’t teach math without being expert in math. Education majors should be carefully selected; teaching experiences must begin as early as possible. It’s not about teaching students to pass tests; it’s about teaching students to be life long learners, to be responsible, to incorporate the non-cognitive as well as cognitive skills in their everyday lives.

Nobel Prize winner James Hechman emphasizes the importance of non-cognitive skills,

“Numerous instances can be cited of people with high IQs who fail to achieve success in life because they lacked self-discipline and of people with low IQs who succeeded by virtue of persistence, reliability and self-discipline,” Heckman writes in the book, Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press),

“Our analysis challenges the conventional point of view that equates skill with intelligence, and draws on a body of research that demonstrates the importance of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills in determining socioeconomic success,” he said.

Surveys of employers show they most value job stability and dependability in employees, Heckman points out. Other studies show perseverance, dependability and consistency are the most important predictors of students’ academic grades …

I fear that the emphasis on student test scores, frequently on highly flawed tests will continue to drive policy. A huge mistake. Meredith Kolodner at Inside Schools  points out the fatal flaws. Hopefully the ship will be righted before we produce a generation of kids who can parse test questions but can’t read, write or think.

Next session in the Policy Breakfast Series: David Steiner, former NYS Commissioner and now Dean of the Ed School at Hunter College and NYU economist Sean Corcoran, the topic: value-added. Should be fun.

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2 responses to “Should Teacher Education Programs Be Measured by Teacher Effectiveness? Assessing Teacher Education Programs.

  1. “Experienced teachers might bring other skills in dealing with students and parents – we have no evidence, and, too often, on-going professional development is weak or non-existent.”

    This statement summarizes the current state of teacher evaluation. We simply have no way to measure all the things that happen in classrooms and all the impacts these have on students. Our drive to reduce teaching to a number, preferrably one that can be added and subtracted and used for comparisons ignores the complexity of teaching.

    How long does it take the best and brightest to learn how to handle students who are disruptive? How long does it take to learn how to motivate reluctant learners? How long does it take to learn to manage a classroom or, at the secondary level, multiple classrooms ina single day so that every individual student remains engaged? How long does it take for teachers to become flexible enough to shift gears when the leson that worked last time fails with a new group of students?

    Classroom snapshots (now recommended at ten minutes each) don’t capture this, nor do test scores. The experienced teacher may plateau on improving test scores but may be reaching and motivating more students to become lifelong learners or to continue to try to succeed in the face of difficulties. We simply can’t put this into a single number.

    The underlying suport for reducing teaching to a number is based on the corporate model that says teaching is a recipe driven activity. We tell you what to do (Danielson’s checklist), you do it, and students succceed. In this model teachers are fungible and it doesn’t matter what education school they went to or how many leave the profession in the first five years (before they become proficient).

    This ignores the reality of the complexity of teaching. Why aren’t the schools of education screaming about this and arguing for a teacher induction model more like that in medicine where novices practice alongside experienced teachers before being left on their own? Only that kind of model accounts for the complexity of the job.

  2. Pingback: Remainders: Parents, teachers, Michiganders respond to TDRs | GothamSchools

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