Tag Archives: teacher preparation

Repairing Broken Teacher Preparation Programs: Hiring Unprepared Teachers or Fixing a Broken System: A Vital Task for the Board of Regents

The agenda for the September Regents meeting contains a shocking resolution: the state will allow school districts to hire substitute teachers without a valid teaching certificate. How is this possible? Schools can bypass teachers who have spent years studying and hire anyone to become a teacher? Should we be outraged? What’s going on?

The state is still suffering from ill-advised decisions by former commissioner John King.

There are two ways of creating institutional change: either force the change through and defend or work with stakeholders (“Participation Reduces Resistance”) to develop a level of consensus. Building consensus is time-consuming with many bumps along the road, using the power of an office to change policy can anger and alienate stakeholders as  well as result in unintended consequences.

The Obama administration “took on” the education establishment, from state departments of education to teacher unions, an attempt to remake the education landscape. The Race to the Top dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states agreed to create teacher evaluation plans based on growth in student test scores and increase the number of charter schools.  Additionally, the administration supported increasing the quality of new teacher candidates. In New York State Commissioner King pushed through the Board of Regents a dramatic change in teacher preparation requirements. Teacher candidates would have to pass four examinations in order to receive a teaching certificate in New York State.

EdTPA, “The edTPA requires a lengthy electronic portfolio that includes written work and videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students. Obtaining parental consent is required for video recording…. All edTPA materials must be submitted to Pearson, Inc. through web-based platforms. Pearson, Inc. scores the edTPA,” Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) is a three and a half hour general knowledge test containing both multiple choice and essay questions (see sample questions here) Educating All Students (EAS), a multiple choice and essay test specifically asking questions regarding students with special needs and English language learners, and, a Content Specialty Test (CST), also a three hour test, containing both multiple choice and essay questions specific to the candidates certification area.

The four tests cost about $1,000 plus additional costs for study guides and prep sessions.

The union representing college teachers at the State Universities oppose the tests, as an intrusion on academic freedom.

In reality the tests have turned college teacher preparation programs into test prep mills. Not only are the tests required for teacher certification; college will be “judged” by the state based on candidate pass rates.

The results on the exams have been so catastrophic that the state has created a safety net for candidates.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped drastically, across New York State enrollment has dropped between 20 of 40 percent. Failure rates on the exams are highest among students of color and students whose native language is other than English; candidates that the state especially wants to attract into teaching.

The unintended result has been that instead of increasing the quality of teacher preparation candidates the state has created a growing teacher shortage across the state necessitating allowing persons without valid teaching certificates to work as substitute teachers. Instead of increasing the quality of teachers the state is allowing completely unprepared teachers into classrooms,

With the departure of King the Regents are moving to remedy the ill-advised policy.

Regent Cashin, the chair of the Higher Education Committee has held hearings across the state, with hundreds of participants from both public and private colleges. Slowly the educational establishment has moved toward a consensus.

Hopefully over the next few months the Regents will reduce the number of examinations and perhaps revise the content of the tests.

Whether the imposition of the tests was even necessary is open to question.

The Council on the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) has spent a number of years, with widespread involvement of the national education community developing standards that would apply to all teacher preparation programs including raising the bar for entrants to programs. In fact, with the requirement that teacher preparation programs undergo periodic CAEP reviews why is it necessary for states to impose additional requirements on teacher preparation candidates?

Programs generally agree that the edTPA, embedded within teacher educations programs is a useful tool, the other exams are highly questionable. There is no evidence that grades on the exams have any correlation with success in the classroom.

Teachers, and their unions, have been under unrelenting pressure from the so-called reformers, rather than leading to changes that will improve teaching and learning the “teacher bashing” has chased potential candidates away from the profession, and, maybe, the candidates that you most want to attract.

When Arnie Duncan and John King raced to change the face of teaching; they jumped at untested, ill-advised ideas and, as it turns out, producing counterproductive policies.

Hopefully, in New York State, the Regents will repair the damage done by the previous educational leadership.

Do Colleges Adequately Prepare Prospective Teachers? Should Colleges Be Responsible for Teachers Performance on the Job? Should the Feds Set Standards for Schools of Education? Why Aren’t Teachers Held in Higher Esteem?

The teachers were complaining about too much testing, impossibly complex tests, oppressive supervision, unhappiness that is commonplace, and pointed to Finland.

“Why don’t we adopt the same policies as in Finland, no standardized tests, a national curriculum and wide latitude in teaching?”

I wondered whether the teachers understood that if we adopted the same rules as in Finland few if any of the teachers would have a job. Fewer than 10% of applicants are accepted into Finnish schools of education.
(Read “The Secret to Finland’s Success: Educating Teachers“). Unfortunately the “best and the brightest” tend not to choose teaching as a career choice, in fact teaching attracts mediocre candidates,

… in 2007, among high school seniors who took the SAT and intended to major in education, the average scores were a dismal 480 in Critical Reading, 483 in Mathematics, and 476 in Writing.

In Finland teaching is a highly regarded career, salary is not extraordinary, the nation simply holds the position of teacher in high esteem, not so in the good, old USA.

In most public systems, no matter how well they instruct, no matter how creative or inspiring they are, no matter how much their students are learning, they all get paid a structured and uniform salary. They also have little room to advance their careers unless they become desk rats in the Land of Red Tape and Bureaucracy. What smart, ambitious person wants that?

In spite of the low status, the mediocre salaries, the absence of chances for advancement for the last decade students have flocked to schools of education. At State and City Universities, at $50,000-plus tuition prestigious schools, to private colleges, education colleges are graduating substantial numbers of students, most of whom haven’t found jobs (In NYS only 20% of elementary school certified teachers have found jobs three years after graduation).

The feds have decided to encourage/force states and colleges to up the ante, to set higher standards for prospective teachers and higher certification standards for states.

Education Week reports,

The Obama Administration will release draft accountability rules for the nation’s teacher-preparation programs this summer. Among other things, they would require states to improve their procedures for identifying strong and weak teacher-preparation programs, and would likely bar the worst from offering federal TEACH financial-aid grants.

Duncan did … mention[ed] that factors like teacher-placement rates, retention rates, gauges of alumni satisfaction, and measures of student learning would likely be part of the mix.

“We go into this very humbly and look forward to getting lots of feedback from the public,” Duncan said, but added that he doesn’t have much patience for naysayers. There’s been “such a lack of transparency, so much opaqueness [in teacher prep] I don’t think anyone can or should defend the status quo. Anyone who thinks what we’re doing is good enough, that to me is a real stretch.

New York State, as part of their Race to the Top grant, agreed to upgrade the teacher certification standards in the state. Over the years the State Education Department (SED) has approved scores of college-based teacher education programs around the state – the college “certifies” that the candidate completes the requisite courses and the student completes two exams – about 98% of the applicants pass the exams. Last year the SED moved to a different battery of exams, the edTPA. The Stanford-created exam is a complex combination of a video and two written exams within a tightly controlled environment (see description here).

The edTPA process has been sharply criticized by college faculties,

… the Vice President for Academics at UUP … notes “The edTPA is certainly separate from Common Core in many ways but I think the connection is that we see the same inappropriate rollout with the edTPA as we saw with the Common Core. So just as the Common Core was rushed in without adequate input from teachers in the k through 12 world, the same thing has happened with the edTPA. It was rushed in. Input from our educators at our colleges and universities was not taken seriously at State Ed, and so we have another debacle here.”

… UUP supports positive change and improving standards but teacher-educators and teachers need to be involved in decision-making in a more substantive way than the education department has drawn on them to date.

Bills have been introduced in the NYS Assembly to delay the implementation of the changes for one year, and, the Board of Regents will be considering a delay in implementation at the April 28th meeting.

Current federal regulations require states to identify the lowest achieving schools in the state and take corrective action, ranging from designing a corrective action plan, removing the principal, changing half the faculty to closing or converting the school to charter. These “persistently lowest achieving” (PLA) schools are almost always in the poorest zip codes. Will colleges who prepare students to teach in schools with populations of poor students be at-risk?

The feds intend to impose the same sanctions on schools of education. SED is currently “tracking” graduates into schools by the teacher scores on the APPR (teacher evaluation) scores. Every teacher in NYS receives a numerical grade (60% supervisory assessment, 20% student test scores, 20% “locally negotiated” metric) which converts to categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. Last year 1% of teacher were rated “ineffective” and 6% “developing.” College with higher percentages of “ineffective” and/or “developing” teachers will be subject to sanctions.

The unanswered questions are daunting:

* should colleges be held responsible once teachers are hired and are teaching in a school district when the college plays no role in site-based teacher support?

* is there any evidence that scores on the edTPA correlate with teacher performance?

* Is there any data which disaggregates edTPA scores by gender, race and ethnicity?

Currently only two states, New York State and the state of Washington have implemented the edTPA exams: is NYS rushing into a sea change too quickly?

There are larger questions: should teacher preparation programs be the responsibility of the school district rather than the university?

If you ask new teachers whether their college preparation program prepared them adequately for the classroom most (with a few exceptions), say “no.” Under the prior administration the NYC Department of Education mused about whether they would do a better job of preparing prospective teachers – the only non-college organization which has the ability to certify teachers is the Museum of Natural History (Earth Science) and the program is quite small and supported with federal grant dollars.

How important is the traditional college coursework? Should teacher preparation be treated as a vocation with the emphasis on actual in the classroom work under the guidance of a skilled teacher – a return to an apprentice system?

A baseline question: should teacher preparation programs be established in Washington DC or at the state or school district level? And, of course, will any of the changes matter if teachers continue to be held in low esteem?