NEPC Report Suggests Looking to Research on Teacher Preparation

(Photo: US Department of Education, Creative Commons)

(Photo: US Department of Education, Creative Commons)

A recently released report by the National Education Policy Center has advocated the importance of the improvement of teacher quality — and therefore teacher preparation – with the authors arguing that policy should be driven by evidence based on high-quality research.

The report, “Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence,” takes a detailed look at four major national initiatives meant to improve teacher quality by “holding teacher education accountable.”  Included in these initiatives are the US Department of Education’s state and institutional reporting requirements in the Higher Education Act (HEA); the standards and procedures of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP); the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) Teacher Prep Review; and the edTPA uniform teacher performance assessment created by Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE).

According to the authors, each initiative focuses on the idea that teacher education reform rests on accountability in the form of public assessment, rating, and ranking of states, institutions, programs, and prospective teachers.

The briefing addresses two questions for each initiative, including how it will help to improve teacher quality and preparation, and what evidence is available to support these beliefs.

Two conclusions were drawn from looking at these questions.  For three of the four initiatives, including HEA regulations, CAEP accreditation, and NCTQ’s review, little evidence exists that supports the idea that these programs will support the growth of teacher quality.  Supporters of these initiatives believe a direct relationship exists between the implementation of public summative evaluations and the improvement of the quality of teacher preparation programs.  The authors bring the validity of the programs into question, saying that the policies require teacher evaluation programs and institutions to make decisions based on evidence, yet the policies themselves are not.

Meanwhile, the edTPA does have some evidence to support it.  But concerns within the collegiate teacher preparation community, in addition to issues with implementation across the state, lead the authors to believe that widespread implementation of the program could not be possible.

The second conclusion made by the report is that the majority of the policies focus on a notion of “thin equity,” or the idea that school factors, and teachers in particular, are the main source of educational inequality and that gaining high quality teachers could solve their equity problems.  The authors state that this idea does not address the fact that teachers do not account for the majority of variance in student achievement, nor does it delve into the idea that inequality has its roots in societal inequalities.

The authors continue to say that a strong equity perspective involves the idea that multiple factors, both in and outside school, influence student achievement.  This viewpoint does not believe that teachers and schools alone are responsible for equity, but rather that educators need to work with policymakers in order to focus on inequities in schools as well as society as a whole.

Recommendations include asking policymakers to acknowledge and address a number of factors that influence student outcomes in addition to teacher quality, such as poverty levels, family and community resources, school organization and support, and policies that influence housing, health care, jobs, and early childhood services.