Make Sure New Teachers Are Ready Before They Graduate

Before the end of this year, the U.S. Department of Education will release new regulations requiring that states and teacher preparation providers report much more data about their new teacher graduates and how well they teach. For the most part, the new data will focus on outcomes:

  • Are employers satisfied with the abilities of their new teachers?
  • Do new teachers stay in the profession?
  • Can they raise student achievement?
  • Do they believe they were well-prepared to teach?

No doubt answers to these questions can help teacher educators, school districts, and principals know more about  teacher preparation providers and their graduates. What’s missing is a measure that can signal weakness or problems before a program falters, before its candidates graduate and start teaching.

On its website, the TeachingWorks organization at the University of Michigan explains the problem this way: “Assuming that good teachers learn on the job and that ineffective ones can be weeded out later, our nation has carelessly left the quality of teaching––and hence, students’ learning––to chance. Teachers’ preparation does not typically center on the core tasks necessary for good teaching such as leading a class discussion, interacting with families, and assessing students’ progress. Instead, too often teachers’ training focuses on learning about teaching, not on learning to teach.”

Other professions have coalesced around agreed-upon skill sets for novices and organize training around learning to do the activities and practices of the profession. Doctors, nurses, and pilots acquire the required skills before they graduate.

Those who are writing the new teacher preparation regulations would be wise to look at examples of new approaches to teacher learning—now being developed—that  can move teacher education in a better, stronger direction.  

1. In Massachusetts, a task force of teachers and teacher educators produced the Candidate Assessment of Performance (CAP) for the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. CAP is based on the state rubric for teacher evaluation and re-designed for teacher candidates. It focuses on six critical competencies. Candidates must have the ability to:

  • Develop well-structured lessons
  • Adjust instruction based on assessments of student learning
  • Use appropriate teaching practices to meet the needs of all students
  • Create and maintain a safe and orderly environment where students can take academic risks that can lead to deeper learning
  • Model and communicate high-expectations for students
  • Reflect on lessons and on interactions with students and colleagues

The new assessment, now being piloted, will be implemented in the 2016-17 school year. During their training, candidates will be evaluated and given feedback on their mastery of the six elements. Before graduation, each candidate must pass the new assessment.  

2. In Michigan, TeachingWorks has created a list of 19 high-leverage practices that all candidates need to master before they begin teaching. Among them:

  • Engaging in strategic relationship-building conversations with students
  • Setting short- and long-term learning goals for students referenced to external benchmarks
  • Developing and managing small group work.

3. In Massachusetts, a brand-new school of education affiliated with MIT will toss out the traditional training structure under which candidates take courses, work for a semester or two in a school, and then graduate. Instead, teacher candidates at the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning will have to demonstrate competence in a set of skills and knowledge before they can graduate—regardless of how long that may take. The 25 candidates, who will be admitted in 2017 as the school’s first class, will progress through the program at their own pace and must pass performance and knowledge assessments before they can graduate.

State certification and licensure requirements after graduation should ensure that new teachers are competent before they begin teaching—if those requirements are rigorous and the passing scores are high. There are now a number of new licensure assessments including:

  • The edTPA is a portfolio of work including video of each candidate’s classroom teaching, lesson plans, student work, and other materials.
  • The  National Observational Teaching Exam, now in development and scheduled to be ready for use next year, will ask each candidate to teach a lesson live and have that teaching recorded and scored, along with content knowledge assessments.

In the next decade 1.5 million new teachers will be coming into our schools. The quality of their preparation is critical. After-the-fact data on how they are doing in the classroom is important, but it makes more sense to have all new teachers up to speed on day one.

Jenny DeMonte is an AIR senior technical assistance consultant specializing in teacher preparation and licensure. She has worked on research and policy issues related to teacher quality and school improvement—first as a journalist and now as a researcher—for more than 20 years.