Obama administration plan seeks to rate teacher training programs

The New York TimesApril 25, 2014 

The Obama administration plans to develop ratings of teacher preparation programs to try to make them more accountable for their graduates’ future performance in the classroom.

Teachers have long complained that training programs often do not adequately prepare candidates for the challenges of teaching children with varying needs and abilities. Prospective teachers, in turn, have no common way of evaluating the quality of thousands of programs across the country, whether they are in colleges of education or based in alternative groups like Teach for America.

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said he often speaks with teachers about how they trained for the job. “I ask teachers, were they prepared when they entered into that school, or entered the profession, and there’s often a fair amount of nervous laughter,” Duncan said in a conference call with reporters.

By this summer, the administration will propose rules for evaluating all teacher training programs, using metrics that could include the placement of graduates in schools, pass rates on licensing exams, teacher retention rates and the performance ratings that teachers receive on the job.

A 2013 review of 2,420 teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group that advocates tougher standards for teachers, found that less than a quarter provided candidates with concrete strategies for managing students in a classroom. The majority failed to guarantee that candidates were placed with highly skilled teachers during student-teaching stints.

Any proposals by the administration are likely to be controversial, particularly those requiring teacher training programs to release the evaluation data of their graduates in the classroom. Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed to develop teacher performance ratings that include student test scores.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union, said she supported improvements in teacher training programs. But, she said, the administration should not implement “a quick-fix, test-and-punish, market-based ranking of programs.”

Education leaders said policymakers should have started with changes to teacher preparation programs, rather than focusing on the overhaul of tenure or changes to current teacher performance ratings.

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