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Has Higher Ed. Ceded Reponsibility for Teacher Quality Control?

The dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, Robert Pianta, pens a provocative piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that poses what's probably the essential teacher-quality question du jour: Who should be responsible for defining and policing the standards of the teaching profession?

The genesis of the piece is the Education Department's effort to write new rules governing teacher preparation, which collapsed last month. While Pianta isn't fond of some of the ED's proposals, he argues that the drive to do something on teacher preparation has been born out of failure of higher ed., and other related agencies, to monitor quality:

"Teacher unions, higher education, and even alternative teacher-preparation routes such as Teach For America have ceded responsibility for building credible and open internal quality controls. Education schools and other preparers of teachers have failed to build competency- and knowledge-assessment systems to identify and measure the skills that teachers need for successful performance. Such systems would be capable of publicly verifying that teachers met certain known performance benchmarks before they entered the profession, and passing would mean a high likelihood that the students taught by a graduate would make progress academically.

State agencies today certify teachers using an accumulation of academic credits and assessments that do not discriminate between good and poor performers. Nearly all graduates pass criteria that have no known association with teaching and learning in elementary and secondary classrooms. But when teacher-preparation organizations say that state-standards tests and value-added metrics are neither reliable nor valid, they sound like unions arguing against teacher evaluation—placing blame on imperfect assessments rather than finding alternatives and testing them."

To throw another log on the fire, there are more sets of teacher standards out there than I can possibly list in one post—Danielson, the inTASC standards created by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards set by the teacher-college-accreditation bodies, and every state's own professional licensing and program-approval standards for starters. But arguably, these standards haven't been well linked to assessment mechanisms, nor have they served as the lever that their creators have hoped to change the nature of how teachers are trained.

A few education schools have begun to move in this direction. And quite a few others are pinning their hopes on the Teacher Performance Assessment, a licensing test being piloted in about half the states. But only time will tell if they actually begin to do the things that Pianta outlines in the commentary.

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