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DVR Unplugged

From New York City to Nevada, the heat is on teacher tenure.  Predictably, the Times quotes NEA President Dennis Van Roekel pushing back against the momentum.  However, in so doing, Van Roekel asks a great question: “Why aren’t governors standing up and saying, ‘In our state, we’ll devise a system where nobody will ever get into a classroom who isn’t competent’?”  (Nevermind that tenure is supposed to be a system that at least prevents incompetent teachers from continuing in the classroom).  Van Roekel is on point here.  Raising the bar for entry into the profession might not only weed out those ill-suited for teaching, it might also raise the status of teaching.

The states have a vital role to play in ensuring that only effective teachers are completing teacher preparation programs and going on to enter the profession.  However, as a new policy brief from Education Sector points out, states have tried all kinds of tricks to avoid holding teacher preparation programs accountable, including by defining program quality as the percentage of program participants who pass the program’s entrance exam.  With such a checkered record, it’s unlikely that many states will build meaningful accountability systems without demands from other stakeholders.

The Ed Sector brief makes a strong case for the federal government to incentivize state action on teacher preparation.  However, pressure must also come from the preparation programs themselves advocating for a higher standard of performance.  In Washington, DC, and Baltimore, the Urban Teacher Center (UTC) is doing just that.  UTC is combining originally-crafted coursework with a year-long residency program and instituting multiple performance gateways to ensure that only aspiring teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness will receive certification and enter the classroom as teachers of record.  This fall, I visited with members of UTC’s inaugural cohort in Baltimore.  When asked why they chose UTC over the many other programs with lower exit requirements, participants were unequivocal: why would anyone want to enter teaching if you weren’t going to make a positive impact on students?

Capable teachers want to be held to a high standard.  Programs like UTC want to be held to a high standard, too.  If the NEA is doing more than deflecting attention from the tenure debate and is serious about filling its ranks with teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness, it might continue to press for states to raise the bar for entry into teaching.  That might not change the fate of tenure, but it would be the right thing for children.

3 Responses to “DVR Unplugged”

  1. As usual, the focus on improving student achievement is so incredibly narrow as to focus only on teacher preparation. What about Birth to 5 programs? What about universal pre-K programs? What about administrator preparation programs? I have been a teacher for 12 years and the lack of leadership skills among administrators is absolutely ASTONISHING! I am closely monitoring the dialog, and I know it’s a serious dialog when all of these issues are on the table instead of scape-goating teachers for a somewhat “invented” public education problem. Have you ever seen an affluent school fail? NO! I teach children who start crying in the middle of the morning because they’re so hungry! These are the same children who do very poorly despite the best teaching and programs available. Instead of focusing on low income areas, why not come to a school district that has about 25% low-income. Come watch us teach. You’ll see that we are not prejudiced and only teaching to the white children. We teach to all, and no matter how hard we try, it is very difficult to teach ELL and African American children who don’t have the support at home that is needed to succeed in school.

  2. Teacher preparation programs must be held accountable for the teachers they produce. States, including my state of California have established standards for teacher preparation, however, I agree that the teacher preparation programs should also be responsible for ensuring the quality of their graduates. This can only be accomplished with real partnerships between the K-12 communities and the schools of education that serve them. My institution, Teachers College of San Joaquin is the first graduate school of education founded by a county office of education and focused entirely on K-12 school reform, specifically career and college readiness. If we want to change schools we must first change the workforce in those schools. The college was started as a result of a call to action from our local school districts. Building on 14 years of preparing teachers in partnership with our districts, they saw us as a reliable resource to address the challenges of our schools. As their partner, TCSJ is responsive to the needs of the community, willing to commit to the long term investment that real change needs, and most importantly respectful to the expertise that all members of the educational community bring to the issues. Many institutions are focused on thinking, because we are part of the K-12 community that we serve, we are focused on doing. We understand that our work is not over when the credential is issued–it is just beginning.

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