Information Age Education Blog
Adequacy of Teacher Preparation
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There is ample evidence that, on average, students learn more and better when working with good, experienced, well-prepared teachers than with teachers who lack one or more of these characteristics. Thus, it is common to hear statements such as the one in the title of Bill Gates’ blog entry, Every student deserves to have great teachers (Gates, 3/12/2012). In this blog entry he says:
Today, a lot of research has shown that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors in determining how well students learn and whether they succeed in school. But we don’t really know very much about what makes some teachers great, or how to help other teachers be like them. Our foundation [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] is helping support research to help figure this out, so that high-quality teaching will become more of the norm.
It is quite difficult to effectively and inexpensively assess the quality of teacher preparation programs and the quality of individual teachers. However, progress in ensuring that every student has a high quality teacher is dependent on progress in accomplishing these assessment tasks, and then designing and implementing appropriate interventions based on this research.
A recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality has received considerable attention. For example, quoting from a National Public Radio broadcast (Sanchez & Summers, 6/17/2014):
The study is the group's second in two years. It found that just 17 percent of ed school programs prepare students to teach reading using all five fundamental components of reading instruction. Nearly half of the 907 elementary programs surveyed fail to ensure that candidates are capable STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – instructors.
The NCTQ argues that not only are these programs failing to train effective teachers, they're also making things harder for themselves by admitting inferior applicants. Three out of four U.S. schools that train teachers don't require applicants to be in the top half of the college-going population.
These are harsh statements. We all should respond with, “Show me the evidence.”
National Council on Teacher Quality
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is an advocacy group with the goal of “Ensuring every child has an effective teacher.” It has recently published a widely circulated and publicized report, Teacher Prep Review 2014 Report (NCTQ, June, 2014). The report presents information about the 2,400 teacher preparation programs in the United States.
The NCTQ report quotes Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, as saying that there are 1,400 schools and colleges of education in the United States. Evidently the number “2,400” quoted in the previous paragraph is based on the fact that a great many schools and colleges of education have more than one program, e.g., both an elementary education and a secondary education program.
In addition, the NCTQ study identified a number of alternative certification pathways that can lead to a person acquiring an initial teaching job. Teach For American is a well-known example of such a program. My 6/29/2014 Google search of alternative routes to teaching certification produced about 95,000 hits.
What is the National Council on Teacher Quality?
Quoting from that report:
The National Council on Teacher Quality advocates for reforms in a broad range of teacher policies at the federal, state and local levels in order to increase the number of effective teachers. In particular, we recognize the absence of much of the evidence necessary to make a compelling case for change and seek to fill that void with a research agenda that has direct and practical implications for policy. We are committed to lending transparency and increasing public awareness about the four sets of institutions that have the greatest impact on teacher quality: states, teacher preparation programs, school districts and teachers unions.
Our Board of Directors and Advisory Board are composed of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, all of whom believe that the teaching profession is way overdue for significant reform in how we recruit, prepare, retain and compensate teachers.
Based in Washington, D.C., the National Council on Teacher Quality was founded in 2000 to provide an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations and to build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession.
Some Statements from the Executive Summary of the NCTQ Study
Quoting from the Executive Summary:
The Review 2014 builds on last year’s report in several significant ways. First, it is bigger. The number of institutions whose programs we can evaluate on the core components of teacher preparation — selection, content preparation and practice teaching — has increased by almost 40 percent, to 836 institutions housing at least one ranked program, compared with 608 institutions last year. The increase is due less to greater institutional cooperation than to our own efforts to secure course materials. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Notice the areas in which the study attempted to gather and analyze data: selection of candidates to admit to the program, the content of the curriculum presented to the preservice teachers, and the nature/extent of practice teaching.
Perhaps the easiest of these areas to deal with is admission standards. First, there are the admission standards of the colleges and universities that house these teacher preparation programs. These vary considerably across the nation. Second, there are the specific admission standards set by the various teacher preparation programs.
There is considerable evidence that these admission standards have a great deal of room for improvement. As an example, one of the findings of those who compare Finnish education with U.S. education is that preservice teachers in Finland are all educated in the top research universities in the country. “Teachers in Finland are well-trained and highly respected, and recruited from the top 10% of graduates.” See http://www.edutopia.org/education-everywhere-international-finland-video.
Singapore, Canada and Finland all set high standards for their teacher-preparation programs in academic universities. There is no Teach for Finland or other alternative pathways into teaching that wouldn’t include thoroughly studying theories of pedagogy and undergo clinical practice. These countries set the priority to have strict quality control before anybody will be allowed to teach – or even study teaching! This is why in these countries teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation are not such controversial topics as they are in the U.S. today (Strauss, 5/15/2014).
Here is another quote from the NCTQ Executive Summary:
- The field also maintains a scattershot approach to mathematics preparation: 23 states cannot boast a single program that provides solid math preparation resembling the practices of high-performing nations. Looking across 907 undergraduate and graduate elementary programs, nearly half (47 percent) fail to ensure that teacher candidates are capable [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] STEM instructors: these programs’ requirements for candidates include little or no elementary math coursework and the programs also do not require that candidates take a single basic science course (with most giving candidates free rein to choose from a long list of narrowly focused or irrelevant electives).
- District superintendents tell us that elementary teachers simply don’t know the core subjects of the elementary curriculum. We think it’s no wonder that there’s a “capacity gap” given the lack of guidance given to candidates about the content foundation they need before they even begin professional training.
I think this quote focuses on a very difficult problem in elementary school education. What level of content area preparation is needed to teach the STEM areas at the K-5 or K-6 levels?
Two Personal Stories
Many years ago, when I had a sabbatical leave from the Computer Science Department, I volunteered to teach the Math for Elementary Teachers yearlong sequence in the Math Department at the University of Oregon. I was surprised by the depth and breadth of the math content in this course. There were a number of topics I had not encountered in my math doctoral studies.
I spend considerable time reading in the various STEM areas and viewing television. Recently I watched episodes of both the 1980 and 2014 Cosmos television series. I was humbled by my lack of knowledge in some of the STEM and history of science topics covered. My point is that it is very difficult to have a “modern” breadth and depth of content in the STEM areas that is appropriate to the needs of an elementary school teacher. I discuss this topic further in my IAE-pedia entry, Communication in the Language of Mathematics (Moursund, 2014).
I believe that each of us needs to be suspicious of very broad-based criticisms of our educational system and the preparation of teachers. However, I am also convinced that there is considerable room for improvement both in our overall educational system and in our teacher preparation programs.
My personal belief is that the daily teacher-contact-hours load today is far too high in our K-12 educational system. Teachers need much more daily time to read and learn in order to keep up with current advances in content, pedagogy, and assessment in the areas they teach. Here is a quote from an article by Elizabeth Green (7/23/2014):
Finland, meanwhile, made the shift by carving out time for teachers to spend learning. There, as in Japan, teachers teach for 600 or fewer hours each school year, leaving them ample time to prepare, revise and learn. By contrast, American teachers spend nearly 1,100 hours with little feedback.
Although I specifically focus on math in the discussion given above, my current passion is also in the areas of Information and Communication Technology and Brain Science. Each is a very rapidly changing field, and each is very relevant to the full range of content, pedagogy, and assessment in K-12 education. Most, if not all, of our current teacher preparation and inservice programs of study are inadequate to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully incorporate modern educational research into their day-to-day teaching.
PS Added 12/1/2014
Here is an article about new Federal efforts to try to improve teacher education:
Rich, M. (11/25/2014). U.S. Wants Teacher Training Programs to Track How Graduates’ Students Perform. New York Times. Retrieved 12/1/2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/us/us-wants-teacher-training-programs-to-track-how-graduates-students-perform.html?_r=0.
Quoting from the article:
The federal Department of Education announced preliminary rules on Tuesday requiring states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that would track a range of measures, including the job placement and retention rates of graduates and the academic performance of their students.
The most contested of the rules is one calling for teacher training programs to track the performance of students taught by their graduates.
What You Can Do
Think about how much time you currently spend each day in accessing and learning to apply current research results in the content, pedagogy, and assessment of the disciplines you teach. Are you keeping up? If not, try an experiment. Pick one specific discipline you teach. Make a commitment to yourself to do enough reading each week in that area so that you can effectively introduce one new idea (from your readings) into your teaching the next week. You might find it helpful to keep a personal journal on this endeavor, writing a little about what you have learned, how you have used it in your teaching, and how well this endeavor was received by your students.
Gates. B. (3/12/2012). Every student deserves to have great teachers. gatesnotes: The Blog of Bill Gates. Retrieved 4/29/2014 from http://www.gatesnotes.com/Education/Every-Student-Deserves-Great-Teachers.
Green, E. (7/23/2014). Why do Americans stink at math? NewYork Times. Retireved 7/23/2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html?ref=science&_r=1:
Moursund, D. (2014). Communication in the language of mathematics. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/29/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Communicating_in_the_Language_of_Mathematics.
NCQT (June, 2014). 2014 teacher prep review. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved 4/29/2014 from http://www.nctq.org/dmsStage/Teacher_Prep_Review_2014_Report.
Sanchez, C. & Summers, J. (6/17/2014). Study delivers failing grades for many programs training teachers. NPR. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/06/17/323032745/study-delivers-failing-grades-for-many-programs-training-teachers.
Strauss, V. (5/15/2014). What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools? The Washington Post. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/15/what-if-finlands-great-teachers-taught-in-u-s-schools-not-what-you-think/.
Suggested Readings from IAE
Moursund, D. (2014). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.
Moursund, D. (2014). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.
Moursund, D. (May, 2014). Education for students’ futures. IAE Newsletter. Part 6: The second machine age. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-137.html.
Moursund, D. (5/1/2014). Hungry children—America’s shame. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/29/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/hungry-children-america-s-shame.html.
Moursund, D. (2013). Artificial Intelligence. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Artificial_Intelligence.
Moursund, D. (12/21/2013). Education for the future. IAE Blog. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/education-for-the-future.html.
Moursund, D. (8/25/2013). Stop picking on teachers. IAE Blog. Retrieved 6/29/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/stop-picking-on-teachers.html.
A friend of mine sent me the following information.
See http://dianeravitch.net/category/national-council-on-teacher-quality-nctq/, This blog entry by Diane Ravitch describes NCTQ's 2-13 advice on how to solve the Philadelphia School District's financial problems. The article quotes Retired teacher Lisa Haver, a founder of the grass-roots advocacy organization Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
”Thank heavens,” you’re thinking. The district is so broke it’s looking for loose change in the corner of desk drawers; thousands of students and teachers whose schools will close forever in June don’t know where they’ll be in September; parents wonder whether their children will have access to a nurse or counselor, or remember what a school librarian is; Harrisburg says don’t call us – we’ll call you.
“What does the Council [NCTQ] recommend that the district do to solve these problems? Crack down on teachers who get too many sick days, don’t deserve collective-bargaining rights, are too hard to fire and waste time getting advanced degrees in their field.”
This is the same organization that recently “rated” the nation’s teacher preparation programs without going to the trouble of visiting the campuses.
See: http://teachlive.org/. Quoting from the site:
TeachLivE is a simulated teaching experience, where a teacher teaches a virtual classroom to practice instructional skills, delivering specific content and pedagogy and management skills. Rather than teachers having to test out their skills on a real live classroom to assess their strengths and weaknesses, TeachLivE lets them test on virtual students. The virtual students have been programed with distinctive personality types based on the work of psychologist William Wong. This means that in each simulation, they each take on the same personality every time.
Cost: The cost is fee-based. Currently, universities pay $120 an hour while the simulation is running. They can include as many students during that hour as they want. UCF typically recommends teachers use the system for 10-minute long simulations. Ten-minute sessions run $20 each. and content. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab, developed at the University of Central Florida, is currently being implemented across 42 campuses in the United States and growing to include multiple school districts and international partners. Each partner utilizes the TLE TeachLivE™ Lab in a unique manner depending on the needs of their students, teachers, professors, and community stakeholders. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.
Here is a response I sent to one of my Facebook and long time professional colleagues who communicated to me about the the IAE Blog entry:
It is clear that you are at odds with the National Council on Teacher Quality. Let's try to look at the larger issue. Are our current preservice and inservice programs for preparing teachers, school administrators, teacher's aides, and so on as good as we would like them to be? This is a hard question to answer. Some people answer the questions based on their persona opinions and observations. Some are in groups or create groups to address the questions. The answers that individuals or groups form may or may not be based on high quality research. They may or may not represent prejudices and/or biases of the individuals and groups. My IAE Blog on Adequacy of Teacher Preparation (http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/adequacy-of-teacher-preparation.html) reported on one group's opinions on that issue. The Blog made clear that the group is an "advocacy" group. Like many advocacy groups it has an agenda that some will agree with and others will not agree with.
An underlying issue in improving our educational system is how to appropriately and adequately measure the quality of the various components and how well they work together. We need to develop metrics (measures) that are based on solid research, and then use high fidelity implementations of these methodologies to provide us with information that can be used to improve our educational system.
Any individual or group working on these hard problems is easily subject to criticism. It is highly desirable that the individuals and groups share their research methodologies and research results. Such openness is necessary if the credibility of the results are to be widely accepted and implemented. The NCTQ advocacy group clearly has an agenda. But, its report makes some effort to explain their data gathering and data analysis approaches. It also notes changes it has made since their original endeavors in tis area a year ago. My personal opinion is that they still have a long way to go.