Ready from Day One: Transforming Teacher Preparation and Licensure
Is education’s current call to action poised to redefine what it means to be classroom ready?
All across the United States, leading education organizations are sounding a four-word clarion: Ready From Day One.
But what does it mean?
Simply stated, it is a call to action. Charged with supporting students to achieve college and career-readiness, their teachers—even novice teachers on their first day— must be prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st-century classroom from the very first moment they set foot in it.
For the President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Melody Schopp, the “Ready From Day One” rallying cry is more than jargon, it’s an imperative. Achieving it, however, will be no small task. In Schopp’s view, it will require a fundamental sea change in the way we prepare and license educators as they enter the field. “Simply going through the motions and assessing a beginning teacher against a checklist of coursework and (practice) hours isn’t enough evidence of their readiness,” she said.
For Schopp and many, the time has come for us to move beyond a system that equates course credits and other credentials with readiness — a system that overemphasizes content mastery at the expense of know-how. “We have to help our teachers be successful from the moment they step into the classroom by completely rethinking what it means to be classroom ready,” she said.
In a recent think piece, education researcher Courtney Bell contrasted the traditional licensing process with getting a license to drive, which requires not just a written test of driving knowledge but also a road test. Traditional licensure of teachers has not included “a road test.” Bell was focusing on innovative tools, such as simulated classrooms that can be used to create assessments for educators that are closer to “road tests” of their teaching, but her analogy to driving is also useful in thinking about the call to action. For our students who are not being provided with skillful teaching, the reason is sometimes that their teachers just aren’t ready for the open road.
But how do we get from where we are in the teacher preparation and licensure environment, to this brave new Day One readiness standard? For school leaders, state agencies, and the professional standards boards they partner with, the CCSSO’s comprehensive report on the subject — titled Our Responsibility, Our Promise — serves as both a driver’s manual and a roadmap.
Written by the Task Force on Educator Preparation and Entry into the Profession — which includes current and former chiefs who are members of the Council of Chief State School Officers, with input from partners at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) — Our Responsibility, Our Promise outlines a set of 10 key levers for fundamentally revamping the way we prepare our educators for the demands of the classroom. The report’s recommendations are broad in scope, covering licensure, program approval, data collection, analysis and reporting.
While ambitious, the CCSSO report takes pains to avoid being prescriptive. But according to Chester Finn, Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “It does seek to make certification meaningful by building exacting standards into the process, standards that rely on evidence of knowledge and performance rather than a checklist of courses taken.”
Moving beyond the checklist to a 21st-century standard of readiness
Evolving the way we measure teacher readiness ranks high among the CCSSO report’s recommendations. According to the CCSSO, states must work together to influence the development of innovative licensure performance assessments that are aligned to revised licensure standards and include multiple measures of educators’ ability, including the potential to impact student achievement and growth.
A commitment to measure performance of critical skills of teaching is made possible through increasing understanding of the practices that a teacher must have to be professionally ready. Many teacher educators are thinking of the critical skills as a set of identifiable—and learnable—high-leverage practices of teaching (HLPs). HLPs include tasks and activities that a teacher needs to be able to do in the classroom that call for “thinking on your feet,” for example leading an effective group discussion of academic content or working with an individual student to elicit and understand how that student is thinking about the content. An HLP is a practice that is essential for a teacher because it is used with high frequency from a teacher’s first day on the job, a practice that cannot be delegated, a practice that, in the words of Deborah Ball, Director of TeachingWorks. is characterized as high-leverage “because when you do it well as a teacher, it has direct results for children’s learning,”. HLPs are also the kinds of practices that are challenging to evaluate through traditional assessments.
The challenge of preparing and measuring teacher candidates on these critical teaching practices is already being met with innovative approaches. TeachingWorks, a national organization housed at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, is working with educator preparation programs to incorporate these high leverage practices into the courses and clinical practice that make up a program, with opportunities for each candidate to practice HLPs and to benefit from evaluation of their performances. The work shows promise in advancing critical teaching skills in a more meaningful way before a candidate is given responsibility for a classroom of students.
For Schopp, achieving a “Ready from Day One” system will hinge on school leaders and state agencies being open to innovative approaches that bear little resemblance to where we’ve historically been. “Education is an institution that can be slow to change because we tend to expect it to always be as it was,” she says. “But we can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting better results. We owe our students more than that.”
To date, 14 states have committed to pursuing the reforms outlined in the CCSSO’s report, signaling that “Ready from Day One” is an idea whose time has come. As Schopp puts it: “We have to change the teacher preparation model. Just being able to deliver the content isn’t enough,” she states. “The teachers who succeed are the ones who are able to go above and beyond, to delve further and farther in order to meet kids where they’re at.”
As Our Responsibility, Our Promise makes clear; it is paramount that states and programs prepare teachers with an eye to this new readiness standard, and that we seek out and develop innovative methods of assessing teachers beyond the “checklist” approach. We need a meaningful and fair way to level the playing field — for more effective teaching, and thus for more successful students from Day One of a teacher’s career.