Recently, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released its final rules for regulating teacher preparation. The new rules require states to evaluate teacher preparation programs based on outcomes such as placement and retention rates of graduates, feedback from graduates and their employers, and learning outcomes of new teachers’ students.
If implemented well, then the DOE’s increased focus on outcomes could be a positive catalyst for improving teacher preparation. As I’ve noted before, organizations and institutions evolve to address the problems we hire them to solve; and a shift to focusing on outcomes is essentially a shift in what we are hiring these programs to do. But as the track record of the No Child Left Behind Act demonstrates, measurement and accountability alone are no guarantee of rapid quality improvement. Fortunately, the DOE has given states considerable flexibility regarding the particular methods and metrics they can use to evaluate teacher preparation programs.
As states begin implementing these new rules, here are some important recommendations for them to consider:
- Improving teacher preparation will probably require tighter integration with K–12 schools. The teaching profession has long relied on professional standards to define teacher quality and determine the requirements for teacher preparation. But until the field develops a better understanding of the causal factors that produce good teachers, adherence to teacher preparation standards cannot guarantee effective teachers. In the meantime, the teacher preparation programs that are the most likely to produce strong teachers will be those that integrate teacher preparation with K–12 schools so that they can more effectively study the interdependencies between teacher preparation, school operations, and student outcomes. Some university-based schools of education have done noteworthy work along these lines through their lab schools. Conversely, some K–12 schools have taken the same approach by integrating backward into teacher preparation.
- Teacher preparation needs to be transformed, not just reformed. Many established teacher preparation programs rely on traditional university teaching methods—such as lectures, readings, and writing assignments—and short stints in student teaching under the supervision of a veteran teacher as their primary methods of teacher development. But these approaches often do not provide prospective teachers with the purposeful practice needed to develop practical teaching skills, including classroom management, lesson delivery, and relationship building. Unfortunately, a major hurdle to shifting university-based teacher preparation toward an increased emphasis on practical training in basic teaching skills is that practical, professional training is a fundamentally different job than what most traditional programs are designed to do. A few relatively new teacher education programs—such as the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, the Relay Graduate School of Education, and the Sposato Graduate School of Education—have tried to address this shortcoming by deliberately designing their programs so that students have more opportunities to practice teaching.
- Improving teacher preparation may require starting with a clean slate. For existing organizations, changes that requires fundamentally rethinking their resources, processes, and priorities typically look unappealing, counterproductive, and contrary to long-standing values. Regulations and accountability systems that pressure existing teacher preparation programs to change drastically their existing business models will predictably lead to strong political pushback. As states encourage existing programs to improve, they may see the most long-term success from policies that encourage new institutions to build from the ground up with entirely different business models. In the long term, the most transformative innovations in teacher preparation may come from online, competency-based disruptors—such as Western Governors University’s Teachers College.
The new outcome-focused rules set forth by the DOE provide states with an exciting opportunity to rethink how best to foster high-quality teacher preparation programs. But with this opportunity, states need to think carefully about how to create conditions that not only encourage existing programs to improve, but also foster innovation in teacher preparation.
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