A nonprofit group aimed at reforming educator preparation programs in the United States is calling programs to focus on data and outcomes as they move forward in mandated program reform.
In its first policy brief, “From Chaos to Coherence: A Policy Agenda for Accessing and Using Outcomes Data in Educator Preparation,” Deans for Impact discusses the need for teacher preparation programs to be transparent and accountable for their effectiveness in preparing teacher candidates to be in the classroom.
Dean Scott Ridley of the College of Education at Texas Tech University is a founding member of Deans for Impact, a coalition of collegiate educators and administrators dedicated to improving U.S. teacher preparation programs. The national nonprofit group is focused on improving the use of data and evaluations in measuring both teacher candidates and their programs.
Ridley has been outspoken in his support for education reform, especially the use of student test scores, assessments that can be used to compare programs objectively and focusing on competency-based curriculum, ideas that have yet to be embraced on a widespread scale.
“Equity in education is critical for both our state and our nation,” Ridley said. “How can we understand what we do well and where we need improvement if there isn't a system in place to collect and evaluate data? My colleagues at Deans for Impact are all engaged in the critical work of educating future educators, and we are all in agreement the time has come to use data to reform this system.”
The brief, which is Deans for Impact's first release since its inception a year ago, calls on administrators to accept the need for reform in their programs and be proactive in making the necessary changes, including developing meaningful data requirements that will give programs the information they need to identify and improve weaknesses. This data also needs to be collected uniformly across programs so teacher prep programs throughout the country can compare results.
“States appear poised to press ahead with new accountability policies for educator preparation programs, yet the danger lurks that we will have failed to learn one of the central lessons from the No Child Left Behind era: Simply setting a high bar is not enough,” the brief reads. “Policy needs to provide actionable data, as well as support and tools for program improvement, to help those at the front lines of our education system succeed.”
Deans for Impact conducted surveys of the programs represented in the organization and found a surprising lack of data at any stage of enrollment. The research also showed even when measurements existed they often were specific to a program and not usable to compare programs in the state or nation. Additionally, few programs followed up with their graduates to measure their effectiveness in the classroom.
These revelations came at a time when the U.S. government is putting additional standards on teacher preparation programs as part of nationwide education reform.
Under Ridley's leadership, Texas Tech has taken a progressive role in education reform. In 2015 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it was giving $7 million to Texas Tech to create a national center, called the U.S.PREP National Center, aimed at reforming teacher preparation programs in the southern United States. U.S.PREP is an acronym for University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation.
The U.S.PREP Center follows Texas Tech's education reform, which Ridley pioneered at Arizona State University before coming to Texas Tech and implementing the TechTeach program in 2012. TechTeach puts teacher candidates in classrooms for a year, requires candidates pass subject competency tests before they move into the classroom and uses video technology to record teacher candidates at work so education professors can determine exactly what additional help is needed and work with teacher candidates immediately to adjust teaching.
Additionally, Texas Tech administrators work closely with the teachers and administrators at the partner schools to collect data and feedback about teacher candidate performances. The university also keeps track of students' test scores, which are part of the rubric used to measure teacher candidates' preparation.
“The College of Education at Texas Tech is not supporting reform blindly,” Ridley said. “We have learned many lessons as we have implemented TechTeach in the last several years. We know this is difficult work, but we also know it is worth the effort.”
Although all of the recommendations in the Deans for Impact brief are voluntary, education reform is on the horizon. The U.S. Department of Education is implementing new accountability standards in 2016 and 2017, which include evaluating teachers according to a rubric that includes student test scores and holding teacher preparation programs accountable for their graduates' success.
“Rather than tear apart any and every new proposal to hold our programs more accountable, we believe we must evaluate the effectiveness of the educators we prepare,” the brief reads. “We believe this is vital to ensuring every student in this country receives the education to which he or she is entitled.”