By Bill Henk— Hopefully this post marks my return to more regular blogging. Like most everyone else, my schedule has been extremely hectic, which has prevented me from writing for months on end — a far cry from when I was blogging twice a week in the first two years of the Marquette Educator.
The clear upside, though, to being so busy is that, through the efforts of many, the College of Education (COED) has enjoyed enormous success in the meantime. Besides the wonderful million dollar estate gift from former MPS teacher, Bernadette Steep, the subject of my last post, we’ve seen the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School move ever closer to its opening next fall, the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee (EDGM) group I co-chair gain greater traction in the community, and the COED has been on the receiving end of another generous gift from former Marquette and current NBA superstar, Dwyane Wade. With the Wade’s World Foundation contribution, we’re going to be able to offer six full years of vital summer programming for young, urban, at-risk readers in our Hartman Literacy and Learning Center.
However, what finally brought me back into the blogging fold today is the proposed federal regulations for Teacher Education programs. To view the regulations on the Federal Register, click here. The short version is that they are creating a a great deal of angst in the professions across the country, because the new requirements would be extensive at best, and nearly impossible to meet at worst. What follows is my take on the matter.
As Dean of the College of Education at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I write to share my reaction to the newly proposed federal regulations for teacher education.
At the outset, let me say that, as an educator, I inherently share the USDOE’s desire to enhance the teaching profession. The Department is right to be concerned that all children and youth in America have access to highly prepared, quality teachers who are ready to help their students learn. After all, research consistently shows that teachers are the single largest influence on students’ academic achievement. Moreover, international comparisons of student achievement data show that some measure of large scale reform is warranted in our country. Accordingly, it is appropriate for our society (although not inevitably the federal government) to expect teacher education programs to demonstrate a substantial amount of accountability since teachers play such a vital role in shaping our society.
However, although I believe that there are suitable ways to go about achieving such accountability, the proposed regulations, as currently articulated, fall outside the set of right-minded possibilities by a noteworthy margin, as I will attempt to explain here.
Foremost among my apprehensions are aspects of the regulations related to the prescribed data collection and analyses, and by extension, their attendant implications. To begin, much of the achievement data that emerges in the classrooms of our program graduates realistically figures to be unobtainable and/or extremely costly to secure. It should be noted, for instance, that: 1) teacher education programs enjoy no ability whatsoever to control our graduates’ career paths, 2) tracking the whereabouts of graduates can be acutely problematic in general, 3) we have no mechanisms or authority to compel our alumni or their schools to submit the data in the state of Wisconsin where we are situated, 4) more than half of our graduates leave the state and others teach in faith-based and private schools where data would not be made available for our report to the federal government, and 5) various student privacy laws and rights exist that could also preclude attaining the required data. In many respects, what is being proposed for compliance within the regulations, in the name of data collection alone, represents a near logistical impossibility.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the data can be collected efficiently, effectively, and affordably, and can be analyzed using the planned Value Added Measures (VAM) paradigm. Unfortunately, VAM has already proven to be a decided failure with NCLB policies and has been discredited by no less than the American Statistical Society as an invalid measure of teacher effectiveness in K-12 schools. Yet, the proposed regulations would deploy results based upon data that are at best sorely incomplete and analyses that are fundamentally flawed to make high stakes decisions about program quality. In turn, these misguided conclusions will unfairly impact financial aid eligibility for aspiring teachers, misrepresent program integrity, and engender a rash of other harmful consequences related to the learning process, most especially discouraging quality teaching and the encouragement of teaching to the test.
In addition, the regulations ignore existing and forthcoming quality assurances of note including in-depth state and national accreditation processes and the edTPA certification gateway, a multiple-measure assessment system aligned to state and national standards including the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC). The edTPA can, as its developers suggest, “guide the development of curriculum and practice around the common goal of making sure new teachers are able to teach each student effectively and improve student achievement.”
The bottom line is that any new regulations should be focused squarely upon building capacity in teacher education programs rather than creating a federal ratings system mired in excessive accountability, driven by faulty statistical models, and carrying unduly harsh consequences. Successful large-scale reform demands the elements of the former and the avoidance of the latter. Control should clearly reside with the patrons most affected by the reform including the programs themselves, state departments of education, policy makers, relevant professional organizations, and more locally, teachers, school leaders, parents, and students themselves.
Given these significant concerns, I urge decision makers to abandon this disruptive and unsound model of regulation and to instead empower the teacher education profession and our stakeholders to develop a system of quality control that is proactive and deeply thoughtful, rooted in best contemporary practices, pragmatically achievable, and most of all, effective and truly useful in raising the bar.