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Teacher-Training Evaluation Caveats

A new proposal to evaluate teacher preparation programs has great potential, depending on how it is ultimately carried out ("Obama Administration Plans New Rules to Grade Teacher Training Programs," The New York Times, Apr. 26). Presently, it's virtually impossible to know with any degree of assurance whether the 1,400 schools of education and hundreds of alternative certification paths are doing their job.

Under the proposed new rules, all programs will be subjected to metrics, including the number of graduates placed in schools, pass rates on licensing exams, retention rates and job performance ratings. I have no objection to the use of this data, but I question if they are sufficient.  New teachers whose first job is in schools serving large numbers of disadvantaged students will no doubt make their preparation programs look abysmal.  The converse is also true. That's because so much depends on the students that teachers - whether novice or veterans - happen to inherit.

Reformers like to point to Finland as a model.  But its teacher population is a tiny fraction of ours (62,000 v. 3.3 million).  Moreover, Finland is a homogeneous country, with little childhood poverty. It would be interesting to see how effective Finland's teachers would be if they were assigned to classes in inner-city schools here.

None of the above is meant to suggest that things are hopeless.  On the contrary.  But in light of the facts, we have to be realistic. Even the best teachers in the best schools have students for only a small portion of the day.  What takes place in the homes and neighborhoods plays an underappreciated role in learning.

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