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Taking the Measure of Teacher Education

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Teachers and schools aren't the only ones who will be held accountable by the rising tide of data collection mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Teacher education programs will soon have to answer to the numbers too, writes Ted Sanders in this Education Week Commentary. According to some experts, the numbers won't paint a pretty picture.

Compared to the fast-track changes taking place in K-12 education, these experts clock teacher education reform at a snail's pace, with most students attending low-quality programs that lack standards for classroom preparation. But these programs won't be able to hide for long, warns Sanders, the executive chairman of Cardean Learning Group in Chicago and the president emeritus of the Education Commission of the States. Data-collection systems that are currently used to track student academic progress will soon provide a way to gauge the impact of recent graduates of particular teacher education institutions on student achievement.

What do you think? Should data on student achievement be used to weed out the weak from the strong in teacher education? Is teacher preparation keeping pace with education reform? What changes are needed?

27 Comments

Absolutely -- Student gains data should be related to the effectiveness of teacher colleges. I have sent you draft proposals on this for years, but you have ignored them.

Better late than never!

John Shacter, [email protected]

Teachers cannot be held responsible for what the parents will and/or cannot do. Two generations of "let the little child flower" have had devastating effects on America. Much of the present violence is directly attributable to a lack of discipline in the homes.

Along with accountability for educators teaching future educators should be a requirement for a Reality Check. All professors/instructors in Colleges of Education should be required to go back to the public school classroom for a period of time and "give it a go." The reality of teaching to standards, creating quality assessments, and managing students would be the best education of all.

Along with accountability for educators teaching future educators should be a requirement for a Reality Check. All professors/instructors in Colleges of Education should be required to go back to the public school classroom for a period of time and "give it a go." The reality of teaching to standards, creating quality assessments, and managing students would be the best education of all.

Before student achievement is used to "weed out" education programs that aren't preparing teachers, it should be used to drive effective reform in the classroom. I remember that one of the most challenging statements from a professor of education (in my undergrad days--back in the dark ages before I had children) was that where there was no learning, there was no teaching. WHAT?!

One of the goals of teaching is to meet the needs of the students who are actually present in the classroom--not the ones described back in college, or the ones that we all wish we had(the ones who learn in the way that we want to teach).

In the states who have really led the way with value added measurements, some teachers have been able to assess their areas of strength and need and make improvements accordingly--to become better teachers. What if this were a part of every student teaching experience--and every teacher training program had sufficient investment in teacher candidates to follow through a period of improvement?

About time! No legitimate university should fear comparing its teacher grads to those from other universities' programs, on the criterion of their elementary and secondary students' subject matter performance. As to such disasters as "let the little child flower", all new teachers, from nearly all teacher ed programs, eventually, face the realities of silly fads in the pre-college schools. Few, if any, of the fads are started or pushed by teachers, but are everywhere. They have names like: "outcome based education", or "self concept enhancement", or "cooperation instead of competition", or whatever catchy and purile phraseology some non-teaching swivel-chair jockeys were able to sell to the school board. So wide-spread are these fads, that the graduates of nearly all of the teacher ed programs have a fairly comparable chance of being ravaged by such "passing fancies", regardless of what university trained them. The competent teachers, somehow, survive fads and manage to deliver instruction, representative of the level of rigor that directed their own preparation. Let the measurement begin! Maybe such validation will even cause some of the universities to rethink their "middle school" majors that displaced "true" majors in Science, Math, and English.

I serve on the Commission that oversees teacher education programs for our state department of education. While there is much in our current teacher education programs that needs corrected, revamped, or simply rejected, let's not jump to the illogical conclusion that our current system of testing and measurement of student achievement will be able to pinpoint those problems. Value-added measurements are still underdeveloped and overrated as indicators of teacher performance. More important, the testing on which those value-added measures is based is limited and flawed. I am encouraged, however, by the push from various quarters to bridge the chasm between theoretical/philosophical university-based teacher preparation and real-life teaching by involving more accomplished, practicing teacher/leaders in our teacher education programs. Those who prove themselves everyday in the classrooms should be the primary instructors of the next generations of teachers.

P-12 student test scores are not valid indicators of the quality of the schools or the teachers that serve kids. (Check the "code of professional responsibilities in educational measurement" published by the National Council on Measurement in Education and "High Stakes" a report on the use of student test scores produced by the National Research Council)
How then could any logical person jump even farther in an attempt to connect such scores to Colleges of Teacher Education? It defies the notion that educated people can be thoughtful. True, not all Colleges of Education produce the same quality of teacher, but we need to find other indicators, not P-12 student standardized test scores.

P-12 student test scores are not valid indicators of the quality of the schools or the teachers that serve kids. (Check the "code of professional responsibilities in educational measurement" published by the National Council on Measurement in Education and "High Stakes" a report on the use of student test scores produced by the National Research Council)
How then could any logical person jump even farther in an attempt to connect such scores to Colleges of Teacher Education? It defies the notion that educated people can be thoughtful. True, not all Colleges of Education produce the same quality of teacher, but we need to find other indicators, not P-12 student standardized test scores.

It seems apparent that in preparation for his article "Taking the Measure of Teacher Education" (Oct. 11) Ted Sanders had not read the May 2006 publication of the National Council on Teacher Quality entitled, "What Education Schools Aren't Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning." This study investigated the extent to which 72 randomly selected universities across the nation expected elementary school future teachers to understand what the scientific investigations on reading instruction reveal is the most time-effective way to teach children to read.

More than half of these institutions teach prospective teachers 20 percent or less of this science of reading pedagogy. The widest possible dissemination of that finding should follow. This would help steer potential teachers away from those universities (among which I am embarrased to reveal is the one at which I worked for forty years, San Diego State University).

Accountability is good, student performance is important, and teacher preparation is required to be successful at both. I continue to struggle however with the current quantitative measurements of the wrong abilities of our students and making decisions about teacher quality on those measurements.
As Dr. Lange pointed out, our tests do not accurately measure student performance therefore we cannot possibily evaluate or hold accountable teachers on these inequate measures. The day we begin to review student performance on creativity, thinking skills, collaborative ability and problem-solving, then we can begin to determine teacher effectiveness. Our students have hard drives available to them, they no longer need to use their brains as hard drives. They do need to know how to think, how to solve problems and how to read, write and present at the highest level of literacy. Dr. Groff also has it right, today we have significant amounts of meta-analyses of the research in reading, learning, leadership, etc. that we should be using in ALL teacher preparation and ongoing professional development. We also have significant amounts of information coming from the neurological research on how students learn and develop, this too should be utilized in all teacher prep and ongoing development. Nonetheless, we should not be determining teacher effectiveness by quantified data collection of unimportant, basically competitive, data. The only tests that should be used are those tests that provide teachers with specific feedback on specific student learning and that feedback provides the teacher with the specifics of what each student needs in order to be successful. VERY FEW of our current assessment instruments do that.

Skewed data will impede the ability to get to the bottom of this question. In my home town they short-cut the real classes to prep the kids on the MEAP test. How effective is that for our children? If the school administration is allowed to proctor the tests they will find a way to make the data look good if they are more concerned with looking good than of finding the root cause of the issues underlying children that are being left behind. Leave it to management to mess up a good measurement tool !

Test do not measure student's performance or ability. Teachers should not be held accountable for the unknown. Why is the student not doing well in school. There are factores outside of the school setting that affects a child's performance. The kids are not learning because it seems that every year somehting in the school system is changing that affects them academically. Why not have some of the "Big Whigs" teach in a class for about a week and see what they can come up with then. With all of the constant changes more and more kids are being left behind. Some of these test don't measure anything but how our kids need to learn how to take tests not their knowledge of a particular subject.
The education system is so messed up there are educators who have on various occassions tried but failed to pass the Praxis. It does not have to do with the knowledge one have, but how much can they remember from their grade school years.
This is only profession that I know of with so much testing yet the pay remains the same "low". With this in mind teachers are held accountable for way too much and are not compensated accordingly.

Yee hah! The professors of education are swarming. One person's validity is another's call to fulmination. What is important is that the colleges of teacher education have enjoyed a rest while the public schools and unions have been taking the heat. Time to shine some light on the trainers. If k(p)-12 student performance is not a meaningful measure of teacher or teacher-of-teachers success, let us propose what IS. Perhaps the dependent variables ought not be limited to this-or-that collection of standardized test scores. A shambles has been made of certain pre-college testing programs by re-defining standards and "watering". Standardization, per se, does not create validity. So, profs of ed., published researchers, and methods text authors(those were me too), how shall we relate the job performance quality of the teachers to their preparation?

What I once learned about Educational Finances was that nothing good was likely to come from efforts to fix schools of education from the outside. It is a cash cow for the university and is tolerated on campuses because of the funding. When the other schools see the education schools as preparing THEIR incoming students maybe they would change their attitudes.
This is the position increasingly being pushed by those in the Math and Science community but it doesn't push hard enough YET.

Teacher preparation is just that, preparation. The form it takes varies from state to state and school to school. It is interesting, for instance, that a k-12 teacher must be certified by a state department of education, while the professors that taught himor her are required to gain a degree that is good in all states and in many different countries. University professors spend the greatest portion of their educational time on a major subject rather than on pedgogical methods. The education professor spends time studying and researching learning theory and educational philosophy, but little time on the actual practice of teaching.
In many ways, the k-12 teacher is required to spend more time and effort on the practice of teaching and in internship.
It is important for teachers , even new teachers to be well prepared, but much of that preparation comes from student-teaching and from the mentoring process once on the job.
Theory is good and valuable to a point, but no amount of theory work will prepare the novice teacher for all possible classroom situations.
Much of the so-called accountability based reform is offering very little in the way of reliable data on which to make employment decisions. For instance, an 8th grade math exam will give an idea of how well 8th grade students are performing, but tells little about the 8th grade teacher. There is no way to determine from an exam wqhether success or failure is due to the teaching methods of a particular teacher. Even if all students do very well in a particular classroom it would be difficult, by test scores alone to determine the effectiveness of the teacher. Accountability is somewhat clearer on the school scale, but it is still difficult to factor out other influences.
Pre-professional training in accredited schools should lead to an accepted and standard professional degree. Job performance is the responsibilty of the individual schools and school districts.
Fast track certifications, if knowledge and experience based should be acknowledged as well. Teacher preparation, like medical or legal preparation, is just that, preparation. The prepared teacher will continue to learn in the classroom whith every new year and every new class.

Teacher preparation is just that, preparation. The form it takes varies from state to state and school to school. It is interesting, for instance, that a k-12 teacher must be certified by a state department of education, while the professors that taught himor her are required to gain a degree that is good in all states and in many different countries. University professors spend the greatest portion of their educational time on a major subject rather than on pedgogical methods. The education professor spends time studying and researching learning theory and educational philosophy, but little time on the actual practice of teaching.
In many ways, the k-12 teacher is required to spend more time and effort on the practice of teaching and in internship.
It is important for teachers , even new teachers to be well prepared, but much of that preparation comes from student-teaching and from the mentoring process once on the job.
Theory is good and valuable to a point, but no amount of theory work will prepare the novice teacher for all possible classroom situations.
Much of the so-called accountability based reform is offering very little in the way of reliable data on which to make employment decisions. For instance, an 8th grade math exam will give an idea of how well 8th grade students are performing, but tells little about the 8th grade teacher. There is no way to determine from an exam wqhether success or failure is due to the teaching methods of a particular teacher. Even if all students do very well in a particular classroom it would be difficult, by test scores alone to determine the effectiveness of the teacher. Accountability is somewhat clearer on the school scale, but it is still difficult to factor out other influences.
Pre-professional training in accredited schools should lead to an accepted and standard professional degree. Job performance is the responsibilty of the individual schools and school districts.
Fast track certifications, if knowledge and experience based should be acknowledged as well. Teacher preparation, like medical or legal preparation, is just that, preparation. The prepared teacher will continue to learn in the classroom whith every new year and every new class.

Right. Precise measurement and assignment of causation is REAL tough! We should try to approach it, however. To throw up our hands and accept the current status that gives the teacher training programs a "pass" merely assures that all these programs will continue to do whatever they do without concrete feedback as to their effectiveness. How many more professorial careers will play out and give us such winners as "interaction analysis", "dual methodology studies", "meta-analysis", and "outcome based education" while their colleges graduate science teachers such as the one who, waving a meter stick, breathlessly, ran from his own class down the hall and confronted me during my 7th grade science lab, with the query: "Quick! which ones are the centimeters, the big ones or the little ones?"

No, a "pass" is NOT in order! While the profs pontificate as to appropriateness of this or that measurement of their effectiveness in producing teachers, we can, at the very least, begin to stratify teachers by colleges or college groups and start to relate these groupings to standardized student achievelment. It is only a start, but to argue for no measurement is to encourage irresponsibility.

There are so many variables in education that people might be totally unaware of some factor that could be having a profound effect on teaching, learning or teacher education. Take my experience:

Many years ago I had the good fortune to be awarded a fellowship at one of the best universities in the country. I would have the opportunity to study early and middle childhood education with some of the most prominent people in the field. Soon after my entry into the program, however, I could tell that the primary objectives of these eminent professors was preparing their graduate students for positions in higher education. Although the stated objective of the College of Education was to prepare teachers for K-12 schools, it was clear to me and others that any of the Fellows who did not choose to continue for the Ph.D. was a disappointment. In addition, these professors distanced themselves from the local schools. Retired teachers were hired to supervise student teachers because this responsibility was apparently beneath the dignity and interest of researchers.

Most of my professors had the good sense to refrain from making negative statements about K-12 teaching, but I'll never forget the response of one of them when I expressed a desire to get back to my primary school position. "I really miss it," was my comment. She seemed incredulous that a person with an opportunity to "do better" would want "to go back to the classroom." When I again stated how much I enjoyed my job, she persisted with "Why don't you go to law school?" This woman, whose job it was to prepare students to teach in the public schools, could not even fathom why I would choose such a job when I had other options!

If many of the professors at the "first tier" universities are honest with themselves, they will admit that they would "die" if they had to teach school themselves. What's more, many would probably not be able to do it successfully. Teaching children requires certain personality traits, talents and skills that a scholar might or might not possess. However, they should ALL have a respect for K-12 teaching as a prerequisite to holding their university positions.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to find out if this disrespect for teachers-in-training still exits. My son's friend graduated from a teacher education program at one of the nation's premier universities. I asked him if he had a lot of pressure to give up the idea of being a high school teacher and he said "Yes, but that's what I want to be." Interestingly he did not do well at student teaching but was awarded a fellowship to pursue the doctorate at another prestigious university. Sadly, the young man has finally given up his dream and is now preparing for a position that his professors consider "worthy" of his talents. He will become a university professor.

So as long as teaching is considered to be "the downstairs maid of the professions" (to borrow Frank McCourt's priceless term) it really doesn't matter what we do with teacher education. Until teaching gets the respect it deserves from all involved, we can't expect to see much of an improvement.

I think that teacher education programs are a bust! From my own personal experience, I learned a lot more about the classroom from my methods classes (subject specific for high school) then I ever did writing some paper for education 200 and beyond. I truly believe that people are born to teach. "Those who can, do." My father was a teacher. Four out of my five siblings are teachers and all of us but two married teachers. It didn't really matter what type of training the nine of us received, we have what it takes to the most important job around.

As reported in Dr. Sanders' column, the Levine report, "Educating School Teachers," makes a good point about the two views of education - that of a craft or a profession. In fact the early teacher-training in "normal" institutes seems to have regarded education as a craft, and, although we presently need it to have the status of profession, the general public and their elected representatives still regard it as a craft. Indeed, some states have empowered local boards of education to certify teachers!

Several points in Sanders' column are disturbing, such as 1) his references to documenting student achievement. In the absence of clarification, one assusmes he refers to the accepted coin of the assessment realm - standardized test scores. This almost universal myopic focus on "What do the students know?" overlooks a more basic question, "What does it mean, 'to know?'" Instead of test scores, perhaps the answer should be framed in terms of one of the basic goals of education, to prepare students to function well in the adult world. In whatever profession or line of work, the outstanding individual is able to 1) find and define the problem; 2) develop and implement a solution; 3) analyze the product and the process; and 4) reflect on what worked, what didn't, and what would improve it. This should be done on an ongoing basis during the process, not just at the end.

We don't teach this in schools. Students don't find problems - we give them problems (in many ways!), drill them on how to solve them, make an assignment, give a grade, and proceed on to the next thing. And when we are told that our graduates are not ready for the outside world, why do we act surprised??

2) The worship of 'objective' data ignores the inherent short comings of standardized tests - limited focus; out-of-cntext administration; subjectivity in selection of items; and the use of normed tests that are meant to spread students scores, not indicate student achievement. For instance, items on which most students would score well, which would include those important points that teachers would be sure to teach, are often eliminated.

3) The focus of most articles, including the Sanders-Levine article, are limited either to k-12 schools or teacher-training institutions. These must be considered together. What happens in k-12 affects the entering scores of college freshmen. We need to approach the problem on all fronts - community support, family support, k-12 schooling, teacher prep, and professional development. One approach to teacher prep in Wisconsin and other states is to utilize the normal desire of the undergraduate to succeed well in the teaching profession and put the responsibility of preparation at least partially in their hands, requiring them to demonstrate their learning, not merely use a test score to determine understanding. Alverno College, cited in Sanders' article, has been doing this since the mid-1970's and is a national model. The students in that institution are involved actively from the start in their own learning and in the assessment of their learning.

The Department of Public Instruction has been conducting an action research project for over five years with k-12 music and art teachers in which students are actively involved, with the teacher, in designing learning projects, criteria, and the rubrics that indicate proficiency levels. The students regularly analyze their work and reflect on ways to improve their product and process, with supportive teacher feedback. This is performance assessment, a formative self-assessment process in which assessment is used as a learning tool. Teacher and student come to consensus on the final grade, with the main point of contention occurring when students rate themselves lower than the teacher. The teacher/researchers report higher student achievement, motivation, self-directed learning, engagement, higher-order thinking skills, and fewer discipline problems. This approach differs markedly from the tone of most articles - and laws - on education, and it achieves the same benefits pre-K-16. It can enliven education at all levels and in all areas of the curriculum.

As I travel the State of Kansas and interview teacher candidates at our State Universities and Colleges I am convinced that the students are being exposed to the new ideas and thoughts on education reform. Their knowledge of NCLB, State Assessments, standards, educational research, etc. is good and they can communicate that knowledge to the recruiters. Our Universities and College require more of our educational majors in terms of practice teaching, classroom observations, and educational research than ever before. Is it perfect, no, but it is improving and I am encouraged by the young adults coming out of these schools who will become our next generation of educators. The problem though is that teacher education programs are not keeping up with EDUCATION GROWTH. We do not have enough candidates in secondary education and in special education, nor do we have sufficient numbers of minority teachers or male teachers in general. If we do not have enough teachers during the next decade that are well educated in the newest educational reform ideas -- well, that is a problem -- but not having enough teachers to fill all of the classrooms that will become vacant or be created in the next decade -- well, that is the REAL problem. How do we help our teacher preparation institutions to entice more of our best and brightest to consider a career in public and private education. That is the issue we are facing today in Kansas and indeed, across the whole nation.

I personally believe that I attended a very good teacher preparation program. It included both in depth study of individual subject matter as well as a comprehensive internship program and strong research and writing programs. I feel that I am up do date with current curriculum theory and have the tools to stay updated. I slao feel that teacher training is truely professional training and should be seen as such. Until teachers are viewed and treated as profesionals, there will be questions abounding about teacher adequacy.

colleges are not preparing teachers for the reality of teaching. I am teaching a master level course in content area reading and it is the only reading class these students will take

YES!--Teacher Education should be modeling what is happening in our schools.

It is like we have the cart-before-the horse.

If we are to hold teachers accountable for scoring, what about the teacher that has the young ESL class that is behind due to language barrier? Should that teacher be punished?

As a former university professor who got into teaching to enable critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and prepare people for adulthood, I agree with Ms. Linda Johnson's comments. Many university professors blame K-12 teachers for lots of problem, but none of them have the patience, talent, or guts to be a teacher at that level.

I agree that parenting (and family structure itself) is an issue in this country, but I remember the teachers I had (before the flower-child) had genuine 'love of kids' and the personality to be a teacher/mentor/parent. I think we should hire individual who have the love for the profession and train them instead of folks who are looking for a job.

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