Wednesday, January 20, 2021

US releases new teacher training rules


Schools employ teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, I/T specialists, and even superintendents, accountants, and lawyers. But the most immediate employee at a school in every kid’s life is a teacher. The US Department of Education released new rules Wednesday about how we train teachers.

The new rules take into account teachers who get their certification through alternative paths, as well as new types of learning programs in place at US universities, including those that give teachers-in-training greater flexibility, like distance learning. But by incorporating these different programs, the department steps up the accountability these programs must maintain. The increased accountability is designed to increase the amount of feedback these programs get and allow them to improve the quality.

The full text of the report will be published in the Federal Register, but this publication hasn’t yet been scheduled, according to the department.

Some key sources of feedback are:

  • Placement and retention rates of graduates in their first three years of teaching, including placement and retention in high-need schools
  • Feedback from graduates and their employers on the effectiveness of program preparation
  • Student learning outcomes measured by novice teachers’ student growth, teacher evaluation results, and/or another state-determined measure that is relevant to students’ outcomes, including academic performance, and meaningfully differentiates amongst teachers
  • Other program characteristics, including assurances that the program has specialized accreditation or graduates candidates with content and pedagogical knowledge, and quality clinical preparation, who have met rigorous exit requirements

But in the US, one of the biggest problems schools face is the gap between the number of teachers we need and the number of teachers we have—in many regions of the country and in some subject areas, including math, science, and special education. The Learning Policy Institute recently published an interactive map that shows where (and possibly why) these teacher shortages exist, reaching the conclusion that teacher shortages are caused mainly by how attractive the teaching profession is to high school graduates.

Given the importance of teachers, we should support any effort that promises to improve the quality of their training. But while the new rules focus on output, as measured by employment, test scores, and teacher evaluation after teachers have gone through their various training programs, we can also look at input, which means high school graduates.

When a school or college of education is no longer a last resort but a first choice for the majority of high school graduates choosing a career path at the age of 18, we might get results that are in line with what corporate sponsors of political candidates say they want to see. On the other hand, I don’t really care what corporate benefactors want, since it is likely to resemble the privatization of education.

While any university or alternative teacher training program should constantly look for ways to improve, let’s not ignore the fact, as these new rules do, that the majority of teachers don’t come from the top of their high school classes, as corporate executives who support regulations that focus on end results often do. People in the middle and bottom of high school classes need careers, too, and we have key teacher shortages in certain areas and in certain subjects.

We need programs that aren’t only effective at training the upper portion of our high school graduating classes to be teachers but are also effective at training the middle and bottom third of those high school classes. Shoving an output-based rule onto these programs is effectively ringing their death knell.

The hoax would work, I suppose, since corporations can always talk about “getting results,” but we need to take the results and work to improve the programs, not shut them down, which is usually what the word ‘accountability’ means. But that’s not how any self-respecting education reform movement works anymore, is it?

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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