Preparing Teachers for The Schools We Want or The Schools We Have

As a teacher educator I spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on my practices. Especially when my school is preparing self-study accreditation report that requires an assessment of our programs. Traditional university-based teacher education programs that desire accreditation from the Council of Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) must demonstrate that graduates of our program have a measurable impact on student achievement. This is another way of saying that teacher preparation programs are responsible for the value-added measures (VAM) of their graduates. VAM is a controversial idea that end-of-the-year student test scores can be used to not only determine how much students learned during the year but also used to evaluate the teacher. Research on the use of VAM cautions that factors such as rate of student learning, lack of random assignment to teachers, variety in subtests, and the instability of ratings from year to year make VAM unreliable for measuring teacher effectiveness. Nonetheless, in 2017 the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) found that 39 states require the use of student growth measures in teacher evaluations.

Now that so many states have chosen to use student growth measures to determine if their teachers are effective, traditional teacher preparation programs are required to show that their graduates are effective once they go out into the profession. Of course, the best way to show that we effectively prepared our students to be effective is through student growth measures. This is how CAEP would like us to assess our teachers, but not every teacher preparation program can access student growth measures for their graduates. Some districts do not report this information, probably because the use is controversial and has even made its way into the courts. If we are one of the preparation programs that does not have access to this data we can use other methods including observations of our alumni, self-reported data surveys, and reports from their employers.

I have deep reservations about documenting my efforts to produce high-quality teachers through the use of student growth measures. Many factors produce a high-quality teacher, but the only one that seems to count is that effective teachers are data-driven. Because of this hyper-emphasis on accountability through test scores, schools want teachers who can raise test scores and will fully commit themselves to this endeavor. Those are the schools we have today but are they the schools we want? I see my responsibility in preparing future educators is to prepare them for the schools we want. Schools that focus on developing the whole child. Schools that value open-ended child-initiated free play. Schools that focus on building positive relationships and embracing cultural diversity. Schools that prepare young people to challenge systems of oppression, inequity, and injustice. I recognize that these are not the schools we have, but if I am to stay committed to the field of teacher education I have to believe that my work is supportive of creating the schools we want.