An Industry of Progress, Promise

Note: This op-ed was submitted to The New York Times but was not published.

A recent column by Bill Keller in The New York Times, “An Industry of Mediocrity,” highlighted a 2005 report by the well-respected Arthur Levine that concluded that the programs that prepare our nation’s educators “range from inadequate to appalling” and set the premise that the profession is a “contended cartel” of low-quality programs that should “feel threatened.” As leaders of AACTE, we view Mr. Keller’s column not as a threat but as an opportunity to do what we do best: educate.

Ensuring Candidate Effectiveness

In his column, Mr. Keller describes a lesson given by a 31-year-veteran teacher from Harlem Village Academies whom he cites as an example of an effective teacher. We know that effective teachers must have solid knowledge of subject matter, content standards, subject-specific pedagogy and strategies that cultivate students’ critical thinking skills. They must create and sustain positive learning environments and demonstrate mutual respect for and responsiveness to students with diverse needs and backgrounds. They must develop and apply knowledge of their students’ prior academic learning and personal, cultural and community assets related to the central focus of a lesson, and they must reflect on and analyze evidence of the effects of instruction on student learning. The teacher Mr. Keller observed seemed to demonstrate all of these characteristics.

However, Mr. Keller was misinformed in his generalization that university-based programs are not interested in ensuring their candidates are prepared with adequate knowledge and skills. In fact, more than 480 educator preparation programs in 33 states and the District of Columbia are implementing edTPA, a new multiple-measure assessment that will evaluate the performance of aspiring teachers before they become a teacher of record. edTPA provides a uniform and evidence-based process that assesses teacher candidates’ ability to differentiate instruction for diverse learners, including English language learners and special education students. It provides meaningful and consistent data that can be used to improve preparation program curriculum, and it allows programs, states, school districts and other partners to share a common framework to define and measure teaching performance. Programs using edTPA will know whether their teacher candidates are ready to apply the knowledge, skills and pedagogical practices that contribute to positive PK-12 learning outcomes.

edTPA was created for the profession by the profession—hardly “change pushed on them from outside.” Hundreds of teacher educators, national subject-matter experts, PK-12 classroom teachers (including National Board Certified Teachers) and administrators were involved in the development of the assessment and/or currently serve as national scorers of candidate portfolios. Further, leaders from the profession have been dedicated to working with state partners around the use of edTPA to improve the credentialing process. Policy around the use of teacher performance assessments for program completion, approval and/or licensure decisions is currently in place in six states and pending in four other states.

Raising Standards

Several points in Mr. Keller’s column underscore the importance of selectivity and setting higher standards for educator preparation programs. Contrary to many perceptions, educator preparation programs already admit academically competitive candidates. Findings from AACTE’s 2013 report The Changing Teacher Preparation Profession: A Report From AACTE’s Professional Education Data System (PEDS) showed that the average GPA of students admitted to educator preparation programs for initial certification was 3.24.

Mr. Keller would be pleased to know that rather than resisting efforts to raise their standards, universities actually have sought greater accountability for their work of preparing teachers. Through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the profession recently adopted ambitious new national accreditation standards that focus on program selectivity, clinical preparation and producing measurable outcomes. AACTE member representatives and other critical stakeholders concerned with quality educator preparation were engaged in both drafting and approving the standards.

Partnerships to Provide Classroom Experience

One of the more prominent points Mr. Keller raises is that partnerships between university-based programs and local school districts are all but nonexistent and that candidates do not undergo rigorous, extensive classroom experiences under a master teacher. We will let the data and numerous examples speak for themselves in correcting this claim.

Nearly all of AACTE’s 800 member programs require supervised student teaching or an internship for graduation. Our 2013 PEDS report found that in addition to a significant number of hours spent in early field experiences, the average student teaching/supervised clinical experience has grown and now lasts approximately 14 weeks, or one semester. AACTE has advocated that clinical experiences be expanded to last a minimum of one full school year, although achieving this goal will require careful alignment of policy and resources.

Many educator preparation programs around the country are expanding their PK-12 partnerships and strengthening their candidates’ clinical experiences. For example, the 40 grantees involved in the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program have completely reoriented their preparation programs around clinical development or residency models. Programs must prepare all candidates to teach literacy strategies, to adjust instruction adequately for students with disabilities and diverse learners, and to address many other realities of the high-need classrooms in which they will eventually teach. In addition, candidates participating in the residency program commit to teaching in a high-need school for at least three years.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) recently reintroduced the Educator Preparation Reform Act, which would expand the TQP program to allow partnerships of institutions of higher education and high-need school districts and schools to prepare all educators—not just teachers—who commit to serve at least three years in those schools.

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships program, which Mr. Keller praises in his column, includes 23 partner universities that have created one-year preparation programs geared toward career changers, producing effective new teachers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Yet another example is the Network for Excellence in Teaching, a partnership of the Bush Foundation and 14 educator preparation programs working to revamp their clinical preparation programs and support graduates once they enter their teaching careers. Through this work, all preparation programs in South Dakota are moving toward a one-year undergraduate residency model.

Progress and Promise

Educator preparation is a profession in transition, and as in nearly every other field, there is a range of quality in providers. Even so, the characterization of this range as “inadequate to appalling” is no more accurate than is the generalization of mediocrity.

Our goal from here is to continue to raise the bar for programs so that the quality of providers ranges from “good to excellent.” It should be clear from our program graduates who have gone on to become National Board Certified Teachers and/or state and national teachers of the year, the fact that 80 percent of first-year teachers feel prepared for their classroom duties, and the significant investments that providers are making in innovative reforms that the industry of educator preparation is one of progress—and promise.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE

Fayneese Miller

Chair, AACTE Board of Directors, and Dean, College of Education and Social Services, University of Vermont

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