De-Regulating Teacher Prep: Will Teacher Prep Academies Replace Schools of Ed?

Posted on May 27, 2013


A new post from Edweek Teacher “Living in Dialogue” blog by Anthony Cody reports on another effort by Senator Bennett from the state of Colorado to pass the “Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals,” otherwise known as the GREAT Act.

See the EdWeek blog at:

As the excellent blog post points out, thus bill would essentially de-regulate teacher prep and allow anyone to create a teacher prep program. In fact, you could create one from your own home! It appears there would be no barriers to entry for either programs or prospective teachers. Rather, certification test scores would serve as a barrier to entry into the classroom and student test scores would serve as a check on the teacher prep program. A program would face accountability after several years of performance. As Anthony Cody states:

The ‘accountability’ comes at the back end, when it comes time for renewal. Then we must use data – the programs must demonstrate that their graduates yield growth in student achievement via the famous ‘multiple measures.’ The state:

(B) does not renew a teacher or principal preparation academy’s charter if the academy fails to produce the minimum number or percentage of effective teachers or principals, respectively, identified in the academy’s charter.”

There are so many problems with this proposal, it is hard to figure out where to begin.

First, the majority of teachers–especially secondary teachers–do not teach in subjects that are tested. So, what will be the accountability mechanism for the 60-75% of teachers without test scores?

Second, more states are using student growth percentiles (SGPs) than value-added models (VAMs) to measure student growth and we know that SGPs were designed to be used as descriptive measures, not as measures of teacher effectiveness. See, for example:

Third, the value-added models states are using are problematic as well. Most–if not all–are not particularly accurate nor are they very stable over time. Further, they don’t level the playing field across teachers, thus are biased against some teachers and biased in favor of other teachers. See, for example:

Fourth, even if we assume that individual teacher VAMs were of high enough quality to use at the individual teacher level, researchers point out that we often don’t have sufficient data or statistical sophistication to accurately measure teacher prep program quality using student test scores. For example, see:

Fifth, certification scores are NOT a barrier to entry into the classroom in many states (such as Texas) since individuals in alternative certification programs can often teach for a year or more without passing all required certification tests. In Texas, individuals can teach up to three years without having passed both the content and instructional skills certification tests. Some people have taught for more than five years without ever having passed the requisite certification tests because the state lacks any enforcement mechanism to punish either individuals or districts (I know–I used to be the Director of Research at the Texas State Board for Educator Certification).  In fact, for every cohort of beginning teachers in Texas, about 1,000 never obtain full-state certification (this does not include the more than one thousand permanent substitutes each year).

In Texas, beginning teachers from privately managed alternative certification programs were far more likely to have failed many of the certification tests than their peers from traditional undergraduate preparation programs. The same was true for alternative preparation programs located at community colleges and for individuals entering charter schools. Importantly, these results were AFTER controlling for race/ethnicity, gender, age, and the intersection of race and gender.

Odds of Failing Certification TestOdds of Failing Texas Teacher Content Certification Tests for Beginning Teachers Employed in Public Schools (Comparison group=beginning teachers from traditional undergraduate preparation programs).

Note that in 8-12 Math, the odds of failing were over 30% greater for teachers from private alt cert programs and over 80% greater for those entering charter schools without enrolling in any teacher prep program. In fact, in many of the core content areas, teachers from  private alt cert programs were about one-third more likely to fail than teachers from traditional undergraduate programs.

Allowing individuals to teach before passing a certification test allowed tens of thousands of students each year to be taught by a teacher who could not pass a relatively simple content exam. In fact, as someone who read through all these tests when I worked for the state, a first-year college student at a major university could pass almost any one of the tests. The GREAT Act could produce similar results, but on a much, MUCH larger scale.

Sixth, students in high-poverty, low-performing schools will be most likely to be taught by the teachers who cannot pass the certification tests. While numerous studies have documented the inequitable distribution of students, I used the above data to examine where teachers became employed. I found teachers who had failed the content exam were far more likely to end up in high-poverty, low-performing schools. Charter schools that were not high-profile employed huge percentages of such teachers with disastrous results in student achievement. While I might argue about the efficacy of KIPP and other high-profile charters, they certainly don’t hire teachers who cannot pass certification exams. In fact, teachers entering KIPP and similar charters had extremely high passing rates on these tests.

Seventh, my colleague Liz Hollingworth and  I argue in a forthcoming publication in Educational Administration Quarterly that principal effectiveness cannot be measured using test scores. Indeed, even the best researchers in the field conclude that efforts to estimate principal effectiveness are inaccurate and/or cannot include beginning principals in the analysis.

In conclusion, there is simply NO EVIDENCE that reducing regulation in the field of teacher preparation will improve outcomes and, in fact, all the evidence suggests that such de-regulation will lower the quality of teachers. For example, Jake Vigdor (Duke University) and I conclude that the massive de-regulation and privatization of teacher preparation in Texas such that the largest producer of teachers is now privately-managed preparation programs led to a decline in teacher quality. This decline is associated with stagnating NAEP scores in Texas at the 4th and 8th grade levels. Policymakers, in fact, were so worried about this phenomenon that the state legislature adopted a slew of new report card measures aimed at shedding light on the shoddy performance of private alternative certification programs.

The GREAT Act–if passed–will be great for those wanting to make a buck off of preparing teachers, but it will have terrible results for children.*

* I believe we do need to improve teacher preparation at many places around the country, but the GREAT Act won;t help in this regard and will likely cause more harm than good.

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