Let’s say you know that a third of the just-licensed beauticians at your salon give simply terrible haircuts. Are you game?
Now think about something far more serious: your child’s reading teacher. Depending on where they got their training, up to a third of new but fully certified reading teachers may not be able to teach reading.
According to an analysis by the Education Consumers Foundation (ECF), which reviewed the situation in Tennessee, 24% of Tennessee’s newly trained teachers rate among the least-effective reading teachers in the state. One-third of the graduates of some training programs were at the bottom level of effectiveness.
These numbers were drawn from Tennessee’s Teacher Preparation Report Card — a report that measures the ability of new teachers to lift the achievement of their students. The data show substantial and persistent differences in quality control among the programs that provide teacher training. Some produce teachers whose students excel, while others predictably feed a high number of ineffective teachers into the K-12 education system.
Bear in mind that the data in Tennessee’s and similar reports are based on the test performances of someone’s children. The ability of their teacher to bring about student achievement will be a key factor in shaping the course of their educational careers. We know that even a year or two of ineffective instruction in reading or math can result in learning deficits that are never corrected.
So let’s toss out the light-hearted salon analogy and imagine instead this is your child’s doctor. Now the potential consequences are even more apparent.
In any other profession, training programs producing substantial numbers of poorly trained graduates would be targeted for intervention or closure. In teacher education, however, neither the unions that represent teachers nor state regulatory agencies seem alarmed or insistent on change.
The bottom line is that the tangle of accreditation, training, and licensure requirements that govern teacher preparation are currently unrelated to the ultimate effects on students. Time to do something else; it’s time for better choices for aspiring teachers.
Research tells us that schools could be significantly improved simply by firing or denying tenure to classroom teachers who prove to be ineffective. What the Education Consumers Foundation’s analysis adds to this picture is that children could be even better protected if teacher training programs would simply follow the lead of their more selective peers in the first place.
Teach for America is one of Tennessee’s smaller teacher training providers. It is selective, intensive, and unencumbered by the standards and regulations that shelter and cement the practices of its college-based rivals. Its teachers are academically strong college graduates who vie for selection, then train over a summer and are provided careful classroom mentoring.
TFA not only produces better quality, it does so without the time and expense that is inherent in traditional programs. In fact, another ECF report shows that Tennessee could save $120 million over 10 years by encouraging the development of programs like TFA.
Clearly, it’s time to recognize that the traditional teacher training and licensure programs are not protecting children or serving the cause of improved schooling. In truth, it is way past time.
Lisa Graham Keegan is the former Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona and head of the Education Breakthrough Network. J. E. Stone is a professor of educational psychology and president of the Education Consumers Foundation.