Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hope for improving teacher prep in TN (a la Deans for Impact)

From TN Edu-Independent - For me, one of the most hopeful initiatives to come along in a while is Deans for Impact, a new organization committed to improving teacher prep programs.  I'm really excited by who comprises the group (a group of Higher Ed teacher prep Deans) and what they hope to do.

This isn't some external force motivated to have an impact on K-12 education. It's insiders. Deans of College of Education departments that want to improve the teaching profession.  To many critics, they are sharing such far flung notions as "Teacher prep programs need to be accountable, too" (written by Robert Pianta, Dean of UVA's College of Education, one of the top Ed Colleges in the nation).

What a crazy notion that we'd hold teacher prep programs accountable for the quality of teacher they produce.  It's certainly fair to debate and develop appropriate measures to measure "quality" but we can't delay that ad nauseam to where we debate it forever, and thus never come up with accountability measure(s).

I have believed for a long time that if we're really going to have a significant impact in American public education on a noticeable scale level, our greatest bang for the buck very well may be putting time and energy into improving teacher education and how teachers are trained.

Sure, we have some great traditional teacher prep programs already, and also some very strong and innovative programs such as TFA, Relay Graduate School of Education, the Aspire Teacher Residency program, Memphis Teacher Residency, and other national and local/regional teacher prep programs.

The fact is, however, that these innovative and non-traditional teacher prep programs still prepare a very small portion of the overall number of teachers being trained each year (or cumulatively) in America. 

We need to improve teacher education in this country on a larger scale. And faster. It's unjust for kids to continue to be taught by underprepared or unqualified teachers.  Tennessee, and the nation has many great and dedicated teachers, but even many of these teachers would have liked to have had better training during their teacher training experience.

Tennessee has started publishing an annual report card on teacher prep programs, and it's a good start to have some annual data on this topic, yet the results are depressing.

The report's Executive Summary finds:

Analysis of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Report Card effect scores indicates that several programs have consistently produced teachers that are outperforming or underperforming other teachers in the state...The following programs have completers that have consistently outperformed other teachers in the state: Lipscomb University, Memphis Teacher Residency, Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville, and University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The report brings up a number of questions, such as how is it that TFA Memphis and TFA Nashville, who are heavily criticized for "only" training their teachers during a summer institute prior to entering the classroom, produce some of the states most effective teachers?  What does that say about the other teacher prep programs in Tennessee?

Collectively, these top 5 teacher prep programs produced 697 completers in 2012-13 or just 14.5% of all teacher prep program completers (697/4,784).

Programs that have consistently underperformed? They include Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Lincoln Memorial University, MTSU, Trevecca Nazarene, and the University of Memphis.

Their collective total of completers from the 2012-13 cohort?  1,862.  38.9% of all completers (1,862/4,784)

Some of these underperformers are the largest producing teacher institutions in Tennessee:

There are numerous challenges to reforming teacher education programs in the USA and in Tennessee.  There really is a disincentive for teacher prep programs to change the status quo. Teacher prep programs tend to be significant revenue streams of colleges and universities.  Additionally, teacher unions tend to dislike any sort of accountability for teachers (and the TEA is a powerful political force in this state).

Teacher unions and "ed reform critics" tend to hold up places like Finland, Singapore, Germany and others as models of national education systems to emulate.  Yet, in holding up these national models  of education, they fail to be consistent in also advocating that America start to train teachers more like how these countries train teachers (the way America trains teachers, and the incentives and labor economics around teaching are much different).  Some of the clearest reading on this topic can be found in Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World or even this brief, by Pasi Sahlberg "The Secret to Finland's Success: Educating Teachers."

Despite the fact that not all is well with teacher prep programs in our country, inspired by some of the work being done by Deans of Impact and others, my multi-dimensional hope for improving teacher prep in Tennessee consists of a few things:

-A group of Tennessee College of Ed deans would commit to improving teacher training and the teaching profession and create a working group network, paying attention to the Deans For Impact model.

-That the new K-12 Commissioner of Ed, Candice McQueen would lead on many of aspects of improving teacher prep in the state.  Commissioner McQueen is well respected on many sides of the "education debate," and is uniquely positioned as a former College of Ed dean of one of those top producing teacher prep institutions (Lipscomb) (*for disclosure, I have worked in the past as an Adjunct Instructor at Lipscomb University).

-That school district superintendents in Tennessee (especially of the largest 4) would have the courage to publicly announce temporary or medium term hiring freezes of teachers that graduate from underperforming teacher preparation institutions.  Kriner Cash, former superintendent of Memphis City Schools did this a few years ago (he announced he would freeze the hiring of the University of Memphis graduates due to that institution's poor teacher ed training program).

-That business associations and Chambers of Commerces in the state get involved in this issue, and put "frenemy" political pressure on postsecondary institutions to improve their teacher prep programs.  Businesses have a direct interest in improving the quality of their human capital, and improving how teachers are trained to teach in classrooms and serve students can have a direct impact on improving worker skills and abilities.

-This might be a longer shot, but that the TEA (TN teachers union) and PET (Professional Educators of Tennessee, the professional Teacher Association) would also get involved and start to put pressure on postsecondary institutions to improve their teacher prep training programs (especially those that underperform).  These groups could provide a key role to help organize teacher voices to give feedback to postsecondary institutions regarding aspects of teacher training that are critical and elements of teacher training that are notably absent or deficient from current teacher prep programs.

I'm excited for many of the efforts out there to improve teacher training and preparation.  Hopefully we can really prioritize this issue in Tennessee and see some meaningful reforms and improvements to teacher prep programs.

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