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Raise Teacher Ed. Standards, State School Boards Group Says

Teacher colleges need to give aspiring educators much more thorough, intense exposure to K-12 classrooms during their training—and set higher standards for admission—a group representing state school boards contends.

The National Association of State Boards of Education, in a report released today, says that experience in actual classroom settings, as well as continued mentoring once teachers are on the job, are critical to keeping top-notch educators in the job.

But the report also says that the admissions standards for many teachers' colleges are unacceptably low—they may not, for instance, require minimum test scores or grade-point averages—and many of them draw candidates from the bottom two-thirds of their college classes.

Transforming that process is essential to raising the overall status of teaching profession to something approaching its lofty place in other, high-performing nations, the authors say.

"As foreign countries endure teacher shortages, they do not lower the standards for admission," the NASBE report explains, "but instead find innovative ways to recruit and induct candidates. These methods have yielded much lower attrition rates than the United States."

The report, titled "Gearing Up: Creating a Systemic Approach to Teacher Effectiveness," is the product of a study group, comprised of state board members from around the country, who were charged with examining better ways to educate, retain, and evaluate teachers. Many of the concerns it raises about teacher-education programs have been raised by other sources, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The report also urges caution in states' creation and adoption of new teacher evaluation and merit-pay systems. While teacher-compensation was one issue the authors were tasked with exploring, they said they concluded that it warrants a separate report, which they said NASBE should consider sponsoring.

(The authors did conclude, however, that boosting teacher salaries, in addition to improving working conditions, would likely lure more graduates from the top-third of college classes into the profession.)

When it comes to teacher evaluation—a dominant issue in K-12 these days—the authors recommend that student achievement, as well as observation, and measures of teacher content knowledge, be used to judge educator effectiveness. But they also said those systems should be designed carefully.

"[G]iven the uncertain correlation between student test scores and teachers' overall effectiveness, in even the best value-added data," the authors say, "creating an evaluation system in which student growth is a preponderant component of evaluation can jeopardize the fairness of the evaluation and teachers' trust in the process."

The report also urges state school boards to work with teacher-licensing boards to align certification requirements and evaluation standards, and ensure that there is a system in place to monitor the quality of teacher-education programs.

In addition, the authors say state boards and teacher colleges need to ensure that educators-in-training are given a broad range of experiences. Among them: learning to collaborate with colleagues, developing expertise with formative assessment, and spending time in well-monitored teacher residency programs.

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