25 States Pledge to Improve Teacher Preparation
States are looking at how they can revise licensing policies and preparation programs to strengthen the teaching workforce.
Amid all the rhetoric about creating a workforce for the future, there is recognition that we also need people who will teach that workforce of the future. On Monday, 25 states dedicated themselves to that mission by joining a new coalition focused on reforming and improving teacher preparation programs nationwide.
The coalition’s members portrayed its public debut, which coincided with the release of a new report that outlines several ways that states can improve teacher preparation, as “a call to action.”
“We have to remember that this is a systemic problem that we're trying to solve,” said Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, at an event held by the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO) on Monday. “It cannot be solved by simplistic solutions. We have to think about teacher quality from a comprehensive standpoint.”
The accompanying report, “Our Responsibility, Our Promise: Transforming Education Preparation and Entry into the Profession,” released by CCSSO in partnership with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), attempts to do that. It identifies three levers that state policymakers have to improve teacher preparation programs: licensing policies, program accreditation and effective data use.
Licensing changes could include new requirements that lead to more rigorous preparation and better understanding of the Common Core State Standards (which CCSSO and NGA developed); a tiered licensing system that reflects the career paths of teachers and standards; and cooperation between states to create standards that apply across state lines. In Ohio, for example, the state House passed a bill in 2011 that created a four-tiered licensing system: from a four-year, non-renewable Resident Educator License up to a five-year, renewable Lead Professional Educator License, the latter involving more experience with leadership roles and extra-instructional responsibilities.
States can also leverage their authority to authorize teacher preparation programs. The prescriptions are broad—from mandating preparation for Common Core to creating mechanisms to shut down perpetually underperforming schools. But they center on improving a system that has been frequently criticized in recent years. And lastly, the coalition calls on states to more effectively collect and utilize data, so they can evaluate teacher performance and link it to their training and licensing or accreditation.
The ideas aren’t necessarily new (Governing detailed several in this March feature), but the coalition’s greater purpose is to encourage action and collaboration among states, its members say.
“They're not sexy recommendations,” said Jim Kohlmoos, CEO of NASBE. “But if you look inside each one of them, there is an opportunity for change."
Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction and CCSSO’s president, compared the coalition’s goals with Common Core, which his group also helped develop. The concept of tougher academic standards wasn’t particularly radical, but 45 states eventually coming together to agree on what those standards should look like and how they should be implemented was.
“That's true. We have heard these things before, but they haven't gotten the job done,” Luna said. “And if they were easy, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have developed this report.”
Luna and Chris Minnich, CCSSO’s incoming executive director, said they expected more states to sign onto the coalition in the near future. They also noted that states will be starting from many different points: some have already passed policies along these lines, as Ohio has done with its new licensing tiers, while others are just getting started. For example, Glass said his state is viewing the coalition’s goals as a “multi-year effort,” while other states might have most of the recommendations in place within the next year.
The specific mechanisms for applying the policies will also vary across states. Some, such as changes to the licensing structure, may need the support of the state legislature. Others, such as closing failing preparation programs, might require cooperation from the state governing body for higher education. In recognition of that, the coalition has secured the endorsement of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as well as both of the major national teachers unions.
There is a belief among the coalition’s members that teacher quality is such a widely recognized problem that they'll find the kind of broad agreement needed to take action.
What is the scale of the problem? Two reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality since 2006 have found that 85 percent of teacher preparation programs don’t adequately prepare elementary school teachers to teach reading, and 87 percent don’t have satisfactory preparation for teaching math. The average ACT or SAT scores of students applying to teacher preparation programs have routinely lagged behind other professions.
“There has been almost a Do No Harm mentality. That will no longer suffice as the benchmark for success in programs,” said Gene Wilchoft, CCSSO’s outgoing executive director. “We've revised the standards for our students, so we're going to have to revise the standards for our teachers.”