Proposed Teacher Prep Accountability: Pros, Cons, and Challenges

New U.S. Department of Education draft rules aim to hold teacher-training programs accountable for the quality of their graduates.

The proposed rules require states to gather data to answer four main questions:

  1. How many graduates from each program get teaching jobs?
  2. How many program graduates stay in teaching for one, two, and three years?
  3. What do teachers, their principals, and districts think about their new teachers’ preparation?
  4. How much are new teachers’ students learning?

States also would report on whether teacher-training programs were accredited or otherwise rigorous in admissions, class content, and completion requirements. Nationwide, about 94 percent of those who complete teacher-training programs do so at colleges or universities.

Based on the collected data, states would have to “meaningfully” differentiate among and rate their states’ teacher training programs. This information would be publicly available—possibly, on prep programs’ own websites.

What’s at stake? The Education Department could disqualify low-rated teacher prep programs from the federal TEACH program, which gives financial aid to teachers who commit to working in high-need schools. In practice, disqualification or individual data points could be red flags for any student thinking of taking teaching courses at that school or for any school district thinking about hiring a new teacher from that program.

Depending on your point of view, these draft rules are either a welcome and long overdue effort to force states to shine a light on their teacher-preparation programs’ outcomes or a continuation of flawed policies that seek to “shame and blame” educators (or those who prepare them). Maybe both views have merit.

New teachers often report feeling underprepared to enter the classroom, and many principals and district leaders agree. Based on my experience working with Texas educators, prep programs want to know the answers to the proposed rule’s four questions, but don’t have access to that data. And districts and schools benefit from knowing more about how the students of teachers from various programs fare.

Self-reflection and improvement efforts are already part of many preparation programs. But a danger is that outcomes data could reflect factors outside the programs’ control but still harm the reputation of a program. Short of that, the outcomes data could overwhelm substantive discussion of how best to prepare teachers. And gathering and using the data may steal attention and resources from research and evaluation aimed at developing best practices.

Welcome or not, the proposed policy poses at least two big implementation challenges: 

Availability of Data. Gathering and reporting this information will require linking data from a variety of systems—individual districts and schools on one side, and individual training programs (special education, elementary or secondary for example) within each college’s department of education on the other side.  

Cost and Time. Near the end of the 405 pages documenting the proposed rule, the Department of Education estimates the total “start-up burden” for this work at 509,913 hours. That amounts to about two or three employees in each state working full-time for two years.

Comments on the new rules are open until Feb. 2. But the rules won’t be finalized until mid-2015 so states, the Department, and others have time to consider implementation challenges and ways to use the new information to improve teacher preparation and make sure our students have the best teachers – from their first day in the classroom.

Mariann Lemke is a managing researcher at AIR. She specializes in projects related to the use of assessment data and educator quality.