Teacher Prep Regulations Support Progress in States

Teacher Prep Regulations Support Progress in States
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In this Aug. 18, 2016 photo, Burncoat Prep third grade teacher Laura Toomey, right, gets some help from her niece Lorelai Supernor sorting books for her classroom in Worcester, Mass. (Christine Hochkeppel/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via AP)

RCEd Commentary

Every year, approximately 63,000 students in Massachusetts are taught by first-year teachers who are graduates of our educator preparation programs. If we want these students to be successful in the classroom, they need teachers who are ready to advance their learning from day one.

That’s why we are pleased the U.S. Department of Education has crafted regulations to ensure more transparency in the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. The new regulations support Massachusetts’ progress — and similar success we are seeing in other states — to strengthen preparation programs for all educators.

Since 2012, our state has raised expectations for all our teacher preparation programs. Working with 12 other states as part of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, we are changing how we evaluate preparation programs to focus on outcomes so we know they are meeting the needs of our local school districts, future teachers and students in the classroom.

We’ve made educator preparation a priority in our state. In Massachusetts, we are committed to making sure every child — regardless of background or zip code — has access to a highly effective teacher, and that every teacher gains the skills and abilities they need to be successful in the classroom.

As part of our new, rigorous program review system, we set clear performance standards and actionable criteria with a deeper emphasis on the practical experience we know is necessary before a teacher leads a classroom. We recruit, select and train a highly effective group of reviewers, which includes local district personnel, including exemplary teachers and faculty and staff from preparation programs. Equally important, we have streamlined and standardized the review process for all programs so we can focus on providing feedback and helping every program improve.

While these systems are still new, programs are already reporting to us that the evidence- and outcomes-based review process we have implemented is promoting continuous improvement in the programs. Those that underwent review in 2014-2015 felt that the process improved the overall quality of educator preparation at their organizations.

We are also making available more data, so that programs can use data to promote program improvements and so that consumers can be more knowledgeable. This year, for example, we launched four surveys: program candidates, program completers one year out of the program, supervising practitioners and hiring principals. This not only helps preparation programs improve their training, but it also empowers future teachers to make informed decisions on where they should enroll.

The recent regulations from the U.S. Department of Education support this work and will ensure similar progress can take place across the country. The regulations focus on outcomes, such as feedback from graduates on the effectiveness of programs; employment data, such as information from principals on the performance of their new hires; and how students are performing in the classroom. Most importantly, they maintain each state’s flexibility to decide how to weigh student learning outcomes in these new reporting systems, and which, if any, additional measures states will include — empowering us as a state to decide which measures best address our needs.

Having already undertaken much of this process, we know that creating a framework for reviewing and evaluating preparation programs is not easy. It requires active engagement of all stakeholders to ensure that the framework reflects the needs of educators and communities, and the participation of all state preparation programs. But strengthening these programs is critical to strengthening the quality of education our students receive — and they deserve nothing less than the best.

Scaling this work to strengthen educator preparation across the country will require states to engage deliberately with their preparation programs and school districts to identify which skills are most linked to the future success of educators, share those data identified and use them to inform what is working in preparation programs and where programs can improve.

Additionally, if we want to quicken the pace of change, states will benefit from doing this work collectively — there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. There is much to be learned from the progress in Massachusetts and other states in the NTEP network. We will all benefit from learning from and with other states in this process.

These new regulations provide guidance for states that are beginning the process of creating program review and evaluation systems, and hold all states — and by extension each preparation program we approve — accountable for preparing teachers so they are equipped with the skills they need to meet the needs of all learners on day one. There is still much work to be done within the Commonwealth to ensure that all 63,000 students have access to effective teachers, but we’re on the right path. With the support of the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations, millions of other students across the country and their new teachers will also start their school year on track for success.

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