Are we finally about to get serious about improving the professional training of school teachers and principals in this country? And will California be a leader or laggard in this effort?
Earlier this week, a special blue-ribbon commission convened by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) – the new national accreditation organization – issued its final report with recommendations for dramatically different standards for accrediting teacher-preparation programs. These new standards, if adopted by CAEP as is expected, will shift the accreditation process from one that is largely input-based to one that focuses on outcomes. Three major changes illustrate this:
- Accrediting programs based on the impact their teachers have on student learning. The new standards explicitly require that teacher-preparation programs demonstrate that their teachers contribute to “an expected level of student growth,” which must include all available growth measures required by the state in which the program operates. This means that, if a state chooses to collect value-added measures of student growth, programs will be held accountable for the impact their graduates have as teachers in the classroom. No longer will it be acceptable for a program to claim that it can’t control what happens when its teacher-trainees go into the field.
- Requiring programs to report annually on a range of outcome measures. For the first time, teacher-preparation programs will be required to provide yearly data on the impact their teachers are having. This data will include student-achievement measures, surveys of school districts (the employers), the ability of teachers to meet state licensing standards, and even student-loan default rates. The annual reporting of this data will serve as a de facto “Consumer Report” card that prospective teaching candidates (and others) can use to identify which programs are training great teachers – and which ones are not.
- Raising the bar for entry into the profession. Compared to other professional fields, such as medicine or law, U.S. colleges of education have had much lower standards for admission into their programs. Somewhat paradoxically, to increase prestige and attract more talent into the field of teaching, we need to make it tougher to become a teacher. Accordingly, the new standard states that “the average grade point average of [a program’s] accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds … 3.0.” Similarly, CAEP will require that (in the short term) the average score of a program’s cohort on the ACT, SAT or GRE be in the top 50% – and this will rise to the top 33% by 2020. Virtually every other high-performing education nation makes it challenging to enter the teaching profession, and now the U.S. is poised to join them.
As a member of the CAEP Commission who helped craft these standards, I am understandably biased in their favor. But I am not blind to the serious challenges that remain ahead – nor do I think these new standards are a panacea. As with the Common Core, the success of the CAEP standards will turn upon implementation. Indeed, there are serious obstacles ahead, particularly given the variety in type and quality of data that can be collected on programs. And I would have gone further in attaching specific points to each of the standards to create a simple, transparent process that would have identified the specific strengths and weaknesses within a program (similar to the LEED green building certification system). Yet I also recognize that transforming institutions of higher education will take time and require a deep cultural shift that cannot happen overnight. I believe that CAEP’s new standards are a good first step toward transforming the field of educator preparation in the U.S.
The question for California’s colleges of education, and its Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), is whether programs in the state will embrace CAEP’s standards. The credentialing commission bears ultimate authority in approving educator-preparation programs in this state and, under a somewhat convoluted state law, California has historically treated national accreditation as an acceptable substitute for state accreditation. Will the credentialing commission continue to follow this policy? The early signs are troubling. I was disheartened, for example, to see credentialing commission Chair Linda Darling-Hammond immediately reject any interest in learning from the recent teacher-prep program rankings issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).
The debate over NCTQ’s methodology has obscured the perhaps more salient fact that NCTQ’s standards are in fact very similar to what CAEP demands. Both NCTQ and CAEP call for more rigorous selectivity, strong content and skills preparation – I’d argue NCTQ’s standards may even be superior to CAEP’s in this regard, given the emphasis NCTQ places on Common Core – and both focus on student-learning outcomes. Perhaps this is why CAEP President Jim Cibulka, in contrast to Darling-Hammond, offered only muted criticism of NCTQ’s report, mostly related to the transparency (or lack thereof) of its effort, rather than the substance of its standards.
There is growing interest within education policymaking circles to improve our nation’s educator preparation programs. I hope that California’s institutions of teacher training, and the governmental entities that oversee them, embrace CAEP’s new, higher, outcomes-driven standards. It is time to raise the bar, make accreditation meaningful, close low-performing programs and expand those that demonstrate excellence through their impact on student learning.
Benjamin Riley is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports education entrepreneurs. He also currently serves as a commissioner on the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation Commission, the body charged with promulgating new national standards for accreditation of educator-preparation programs.