The State of Student Teaching: Programs and Accountability Limited

July 27th, 2011

Category: News, Policy and Practice

A controversial report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) last week describes the state of student teaching programs nationwide as strained, inconsistent, and ineffective.  The report, which evaluated student teaching program on five standards covering program structure and mentor credentials, has been hailed by many school administrators as an important first step towards identifying effective teacher preparation programs yet also have been resoundingly criticized by education school deans as sloppy and methodologically tenuous.  (NCTQ’s defense of its methodology is available here.)

Close to home, NCTQ criticizes Delaware for having lax regulations regarding student teaching assignments – specifically, Delaware does not require that teaching candidates work fulltime for a minimum of ten weeks or that mentor teachers be highly effective, veteran teachers capable of mentoring an adult.  Two Delaware schools were rated in the report: Delaware State University, which earned a rating of “Good,” and the University of Delaware, whose student teaching program was rated as “Weak.” 

The report concludes that schools of education nationwide are creating a surplus of student teachers, over half of whom will never enter the teaching profession.  This results in too many teaching candidates for too few qualified mentor teachers – by NCTQ’s estimate, only one-in-six mentor teachers have the requisite experience, capabilities, and desire to be an effective mentor.

NCTQ makes several suggestions on how to increase the percentage of teacher candidates paired with highly effective teachers, namely:

  • Selectivity: Schools of education should be more selective in admitting students to their programs, while school districts should commit to only taking those teaching candidates they can responsibly train.
  • Screening: Provide an exit plan (e.g., fallback majors) for students who have decided they no longer want to be teachers.  This will lessen the load on school districts as well as prevent unmotivated student teachers from entering the classroom.
  • Incentives: School districts should create incentives for being a mentor teacher that are more attractive for highly effective teachers, such as larger stipends and professional recognition.

The report on student teaching is a prelude to NCTQ’s forthcoming report on colleges of education.  Due for release in late 2012, the report will evaluate over 1,400 undergraduate teacher prep programs and assign a grade to each. 

Teacher preparation, much like the teaching profession itself, has long been a self-regulating industry with inconsistent standards for judging one program against another.  While important in its own right, this undertaking is all the more timely as many states, including Delaware, included reviews of teacher preparation programs in their RTTT applications.  NCTQ’s methodology has been endorsed by many school chiefs and reform-minded organizations, including Rodel.  However, many colleges have objected vehemently to the process – already, over 300 universities have declined to participate in the study, and NCTQ is in the process of filing open records requests to non-cooperative institutions. 

Some schools fear that the report will too heavily consider inputs (curricula, syllabi, textbooks, etc.) in the absence of reliable outputs (data on teacher effectiveness and student achievement).  While the review will take into account the effectiveness of schools’ graduates, few states have the capability to track performance across state lines.  This is an acutely important limitation here in Delaware, where many education students end up teaching in other states.  (At UD, for example, 70% of graduates take jobs in other states.)  With an already small sample size and a high graduate attrition rate, Delaware college administrators fear that it will be difficult to find reliable data on graduate effectiveness.

A thorough review of colleges of education is an important undertaking because it reiterates what we know to be true: that the most important part of a child’s education is the quality of his or her teachers.  Each year in the United States, colleges of education produce 186,000 graduates, 77,000 of whom take a job as a public school teacher.  These new teachers are responsible for the education of an estimated 1.2 million kids, a disproportionate number of whom are from low-income or minority families.  Effective preparation of these teachers is essential if we want to ensure a quality education for all students regardless of race, family income, or zip code. 

No one has an interest in this report being inaccurate – particularly those of us who want to help high-needs schools recruit the most effective teachers.  Hopefully, the disagreement over how to evaluate teacher preparation programs will result in a constructive dialogue on the measures of teacher effectiveness and an effecting of policy conditions that allow for more rigorous data on teacher effectiveness.  

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Dan Hay



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