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Member Voices: Bringing Teacher Educators to the ESSA Implementation Table

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

In December 2015, I published an op-ed in the Washington Post in which I discussed my concerns with some of the teacher education provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I focused my comments on a section within the law that gives states the authority to use some of their Title II funds to establish “teacher preparation academies.” These academies would, in my opinion, lower standards for preparing teachers and would also support a general downward spiral in standards beyond the academies that would weaken public education.

The academies provision is the most prescriptive option under Title II and could require states to change laws that would lower standards for teacher education programs. For example, if states choose to support teacher preparation academies, then they would not be allowed to place any “unnecessary restrictions on the methods of the academy” which includes requiring faculty to have advanced degrees or placing any restrictions on undergraduate or professional course work. While it is not certain that programs with lower standards would be funded under the academy provision, this option opens the door to that possibility.

I think the most important thing we can do, now that ESSA has been signed into law, is to make sure we are at the table as our states prepare their applications for Title II funds. When we are working with our states on their applications, it is important that we do our homework and be aware of the options that are available in the law that will maintain high standards for all teacher education programs and that will help us address pressing problems such as teacher shortages and the inequitable distribution of fully qualified and effective teachers.

There are 21 different ways in which the state funds allocated through Title II can be spent to support teacher quality. Some of the options other than academies that are available to fund are teacher residency programs, induction programs, improving equitable access to a diverse teaching staff and effective teachers, integrating technology into the curriculum and instruction, and—yes—even establishing, expanding, or improving alternative routes to certification. There are also 21 options available for the use of Title II funds for local-agency activities, such as providing greater access to high-quality professional learning opportunities for staff.

It is not necessary for states to sponsor academies if they want to support alternative teacher preparation programs. The difference is that when these programs receive funding as teacher preparation academies, they are able to lower standards. When the alternative programs are funded outside of the academy mechanism, the states have the option to require them to meet the same high standards as other programs.

One of the things that I strongly believe that we should pursue in our involvement in Title II-funded efforts is to work to establish new hybrid partnerships with schools, local communities, and professional associations in which the expertise of faculty, teachers and administrators, and local community members is accessed to support the preparation of professional teachers that have knowledge and expertise about content, pedagogy, and the knowledge of and respect for culture and communities that is needed to be an effective teacher in our public schools.

Currently, there is a lot of media attention to actual and projected teacher shortages in particular fields, such as special education, and in particular geographical locations, such as rural and urban schools, serving students living in poverty. We know from research that the main issue with regard to these shortages is teacher retention and that factors such as high-quality preparation, good compensation and working conditions, the ability to exercise their judgment in the classroom, and access to high-quality professional learning opportunities responsive to teachers’ identified goals will help keep good teachers in the classroom. We also know that some of the options available for funding under Title II such as induction programs and rigorous teacher residency programs will support our ability to address teacher shortages and help us provide everyone’s children with fully prepared and effective professional teachers.

Last September, Hilary Conklin of DePaul University and I published an op-ed in the Washington Post in which we showed how some critics misrepresent research to present an exaggerated narrative of failure of university teacher education and an exaggerated narrative of success about the new entrepreneurial programs. As we work with our states and communicate to the public about the work that we are doing and want to do, it is important that we do not commit the same mistake as some of our critics and ignore the gaps between our ideals and our performance and what we may be able to learn from our critics.

Although we should be proud of our accomplishments, we also need to acknowledge where our current practice falls short and strive to do the work that is needed to provide a highly qualified and effective teacher for everyone’s children. This work requires a rigorous bar for all teacher education programs. The most important thing for us now is to be at the table and be actively and constructively involved when decisions are made about how states and districts will choose to use the funds available under Title II.

Kenneth Zeichner is Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington.

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Kenneth Zeichner

University of Washington