Evaluating Teacher Preparation Programs: What’s a Policymaker to Do?

By Angela Minnici, Ph.D., GTL Center Director, Feb 26, 2014

Both new and longstanding debates over reforming teacher preparation took center stage on February 27, 2014, at a joint hearing,  “Exploring Efforts to Strengthen the Teaching Profession,” held by the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. At the heart of the conversation is the quality of teacher preparation programs and their responsibility to guarantee a better outcome: highly effective teachers for all students.

Teacher preparation is the latest lottery winner in the “accountability matters” Powerball, with debates raging over which measures of program quality matter most. And policymakers are grappling with tough choices about how best to assess teacher preparation programs:

  • How much focus should be placed on measuring program features (such as courses and clinical experiences) versus program outputs and outcomes (such as how many candidates complete the program or how well graduates do when they first enter the classroom)?
  • Should a program’s quality be judged by the percentage of graduates who are ultimately hired by schools? Or does it matter more that program graduates stay in the profession—and, if so, for how long?

A 2013 report from the National Academy of Education[i] lays out the various approaches to evaluating teacher preparation programs. But that doesn’t help policymakers grapple with the “so what?” question that research leaves them longing to answer. To help close that gap and to inform the current conversation in Washington, D.C., I offer some suggestions for policymakers to move this debate forward:

  • Treat data as king. For state education leaders, accurate and timely data—such as those laid out in the Secretary’s Ninth Report on Teacher Quality[ii]—are critical to inform policy decisions about teacher preparation programs. Understanding whom you are attracting to the profession, what kind of preparation programs they attend (alternative, traditional, or hybrid routes), where they are placed, who they teach, how long they remain in the profession, and how well their students do is essential to formulating any policies that will ultimately impact teacher preparation. For teacher preparation programs, the right data on program quality and outcomes are the foundation to a meaningful quality assurance and continuous improvement process for accelerated program development.
  • Be a mover and a shaker. Both the federal government and states have key roles in elevating the teaching profession. First, the federal government can shake up state policy by setting a high bar for the data collection and reporting requirements in Title II of the Higher Education Act and by crafting a definition of what it means to be a poor-performing preparation program. Although such requirements and definitions maybe not the biggest levers in the game, the federal government still can wield some power in equalizing the playing field by setting a bar for all state programs to meet (or at least publicly report on) as well as providing cover for some state leaders to move forward with a reform agenda for teacher preparation programs.  Then, states can wield their own significant policy levers. As a 2012 report from the Council of Chief State School Officers[iii] points out, state leaders can set licensure standards and performance assessments that drive teacher preparation program evaluation in the right direction (for example, requiring multiple measures and indicators of teacher performance). Likewise, whether or not states require accreditation from organizations such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation also will drive teacher preparation program evaluation and improvement.
  • Focus on the whole, not the parts. The teaching profession suffers from an “initiatives” approach to reform. Endless cycles of activities take place without ever building on a comprehensive, coherent, and connected reform agenda, doomed to accomplish little. Teacher preparation programs are just one point along the continuum of broken educator effectiveness policies that states need to address. Making clear connections to other state policies such as teacher evaluation, induction, and recertification is necessary to ensure a coherent plan for ensuring that all students have access to high-quality instruction. And policymakers need to address the long-ignored teacher pipeline question: How can we attract the best and brightest to the profession? Without significant and intentional policy intervention such as financial incentives to enter teacher preparation, improved teacher compensation and working conditions, effective school leadership, and elevation and respect of the profession overall, we’re unlikely to attract the best candidates to teaching.
  • Don’t go it alone. Engaging all stakeholders substantively in improving teacher preparation deepens the conversation and garners better policy outcomes. For example, large districts or consortia of districts could drive forward the conversation on preparation program evaluation by refusing to hire candidates from programs that don’t adequately prepare teachers to be successful with their students. The newly formed Network for Transforming Educator Preparation exemplifies what is possible—seven states and 17 national organizations are bringing educators, preparation programs, institutions of higher education, nonprofit and for-profit education providers, and districts and schools to the table together to transform preparation and entry systems to the profession.

These four suggestions may be too much for policymakers to address in just a few hearings. But we must start grappling with issues like these if we as a nation want to ensure that teacher preparation programs develop highly effective teachers for all students.

Now it’s your turn: What advice do you have for policymakers who are focusing on improving teacher preparation programs? How can we guarantee accountability and results?

Sources Cited

[i] Feuer, M. J., Floden, R. E., Chudowsky, N., & Ahn, J. (2013). Evaluation of teacher preparation programs: Purposes, methods, and policy options. Washington, DC: National Academy of Education.

[ii] Office of Postsecondary Education. (2012). Preparing and credentialing the nation’s teachers (Secretary’s Ninth Report on Teacher Quality). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education.

[iii] Task Force on Educator Preparation and Entry Into the Profession. (2012). Our responsibility, our promise: Transforming educator preparation and entry into the profession. Washington DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.


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