Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Are States Tracking Teacher Training Programs?

With the election behind us, it’s time to focus on what’s ahead for education policy. One area of particular importance – and expected emphasis for the Obama administration’s second term – is teacher effectiveness. Teachers unions are closely monitoring (and taking part) in the conversation, particularly when it comes to new requirements being adopted by many states which require student test scores to be a factor in evaluating educator job performance.

A critical component to teacher effectiveness is the training individuals receive through their preparation programs before they are ever put in charge of a classroom of their own. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it clear that overhauling and improving teacher training nationally is a priority for his department. To that end, the feds are offering sizable fiscal incentives to states to identify and shut down low-performing teacher training programs. (At an event in Washington, D.C. last year shortly after these new incentives were announced, Duncan called it “laughable” that in the prior 12 years more than half of the nation’s states had not rated even one teacher training program as inferior.)

To get a better understanding of where the federal law (Title II of the Higher Education Act) currently stands on states’ requirements to track and report elements of their teacher training programs, you might start with watching a session from EWA’s recent seminar. “Ready to Teach” was held in October in Minneapolis and was co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development. The lead-off session featured Allison Henderson of Westat, the research corporation which helps the U.S. Department of Education collect, analyze and report data on Title II.

The purpose of the web-based Title II data system is two-fold, Henderson says: It serves as an accountability measure that can be used to compile annual reports to Congress to ensure states are complying with the law, and it gives prospective students as way to compare the state-by-state requirements for becoming a teacher.

Those comparisons can be tricky, Henderson warns. There are currently 59 ways teachers can be trained and certified. And how those routes are categorized and reported also differs widely from state to state. That can make comparisons not only difficult but also potentially inaccurate.

However, there are plenty of interesting tidbits – and potential story ideas for reporters — in the Title II data that are readily available. Here’s one example: The report from the education secretary includes a breakdown of the pass rate in each state for its teacher licensing exams. In the District of Columbia, the minimum passing score on the Praxis exam is 142. In neighboring Virginia, would-be teachers must earn at least a 172 on that same test. Does that mean the bar is being set too low—or too high—in some states? Are the expectations rigorous enough to demonstrate that teachers are ready for the classroom?

Another consideration: The report shows a number of states have pass rates of 100 percent. That’s something that “has Congress pretty wild,” Henderson says.

Interestingly, most teachers already score well above the minimum cut score, Henderson says. That suggests a conversation about raising the bar isn’t ill-timed, and that it wouldn’t mean a huge number of aspiring teachers would be cut off from the profession.

(For more on the push to overhaul teacher training programs, you can go here and here., EWA’s News Topics site is another useful database, particularly for journalists looking for the latest research and expert sources on issues related to teachers.)


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