Education

States Are Strengthening Teacher Preparation Laws

According to a new report, states are passing more laws that make teacher colleges more selective and require educators to demonstrate mastery of their subject areas.
by | June 25, 2014
AP/Ted S. Warren
 

Many states are requiring tougher entry requirements for teacher colleges and proof of subject mastery before teachers can enter the classroom, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

In total, 33 states have made “significant improvements” to teacher preparation policies over the last two years, according to the report, the group’s second annual study of teacher colleges. The first came under fire from the institutions, most of which didn’t directly participate, for inaccuracies and questions about methodology, but it's clear states are enacting changes to laws designed to ensure teachers are ready for their jobs.

From the report: 29 states now require tests of academic proficiency as an entry requirement for teacher preparation programs, up from 21 in 2011; 19 states now require separate content-specific tests for elementary teachers, up from zero in 2009; 17 states now require assessments on the particulars of early childhood reading, up from 8 before; and more states are increasing the length of student teaching requirements and assigning new teachers only to instructors who have proven some level of effectiveness.

A separate NCTQ report found that 28 states require annual evaluations, up from only 15 states in 2009. All but 10 states now include some measure of student performance in their evaluations of schools of education, according to NCTQ, which supports a practice that has come under fire from statisticians and others who argue it isn’t reliable.

Standouts among the states are Delaware, which passed a law last year raising admission standards to the highest in the country, and Rhode Island, which will eventually require that each class of students at its education schools score in the top third of everyone taking college entrance exams.

The rollout of Common Core, the new state standards that demand more of students and teachers, as well as research on the changing needs of the workforce, are placing teacher preparation front and center in state houses, said Michelle Exstrom, an education policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“I think states are just expecting more, so they’re outlining what teachers and students should know coming out of preparation programs and then asking prep programs to get their students there,” she said.

NCTQ’s ratings of teacher preparation programs have drawn scorn from many in academia. NCTQ was forced to correct scores last year for a number of programs, and some of the group’s methods came under question in academic journals. Some found fault with a methodology that relied on course syllabi and required readings to measure how well a program teaches early childhood reading. Critics also contend the study is too focused on inputs and not enough on measuring how effective programs are in terms of placement, retention and results for students.

Every school is ranked on a number of standards for which NCTQ has information from every institution, though schools rarely submit the information on a voluntary basis. For those that don’t submit information, NCTQ tries to obtain it through things like records requests. Every school is graded on basic areas where NCTQ has managed to find information for every institution, such as selection criteria and course materials.

Beyond those measures programs can boost their scores if they have information on how they teach classroom management or if they have data on outcomes such as student test results or teacher performance reviews. Evidence of effectiveness from state reports on the performance of students taught by a teacher college’s graduates is not included because it is sparsely available, according to NCTQ.

Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, notes that the creation of some data sets for the teaching profession is a fairly recent phenomenon. She says the group does the best it can with available information and research into what instructional methods are likely to create effective teachers.

“You can extrapolate from what we know teachers need to be effective in the classroom, and that’s what we’ve done,” Walsh said.

Based on the group’s report this year, 17 states and the District of Columbia don’t have an elementary or secondary program that cracked the group’s top rankings. Three out of four programs don’t require that their applicants be in the top half of the college population, the group says.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor who specializes in teacher effectiveness (Stanford ranked 382nd, for the record), is among those who question the group’s methodology. There’s not enough focus on outcome-based measures such as graduate surveys, employer surveys, pass rates on content-area examinations and other figures, she argues.

She would prefer that evaluators would look at that sort of information, "instead of just looking at a piece of paper [like a course syllabi],” she said. “Though I will say if they looked at the pieces of paper more accurately I would find what they do more helpful.”

Darling-Hammond acknowledges that teacher preparation is an area in need of improvement, but she notes that U.S. teachers are worker longer hours in poorer environments than international peers. A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, released June 25, found an average of 64 percent of U.S. teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of the students come from poor households and they have far less time for daily preparation and collaboration.

“You put that together and you see this is becoming an increasingly less attractive profession,” she said. “All of things have to be tackled along with teacher preparation.”

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