Are TN Colleges Turning Out Bad Teachers?

You might think Tennessee’s public schools of education are doing a poor job of turning out effective educators if you read this story in yesterday’s Tennessean.

The article notes:

Many of Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs aren’t at the quality the state expects. A number of those underperforming are at state colleges — with none of those schools performing at the highest level.

It’s a “sobering” data point education officials are highlighting as they work toward addressing fixes in Tennessee’s teaching programs.

The article references the redesigned teacher preparation report card produced annually by the Tennessee State Board of Education.

I’ve written before about the problems with this approach.

The revamped report includes candidate profile (who is enrolling in teacher prep programs), retention (whether grads stay in teaching), and “teacher effectiveness” (which is measured by the flawed TVAAS system).

TVAAS scores of graduates account for 40 of the 75 points available to rate teacher prep programs. That means the rating formula is heavily skewed toward an unreliable statistical estimate of performance.

At best, TVAAS is a rough estimate of teacher performance. A fairly solid indicator that a teacher earning a “5” is NOT a “1,” but relatively meaningless otherwise.

Now, of course, Tennessee has transitioned to new tests. TNReady has been fraught with problems, but even if it hadn’t been, the results would render TVAAS data highly suspect. So, more than 50% of the score attributed to teacher prep programs comes from a number that is essentially meaningless. Let me be clear: Schools receiving grades of 4 (the highest) or 1 (the lowest) on this metric are getting numbers that have no basis in statistical reality.

The next area of importance to a program’s score is the profile of the candidates enrolled in their program. Here, the state is looking for high academic achievers and overall diversity.

As noted in the article:

McQueen also has plans for a statewide tour to schools with the purpose of getting high-achieving, young students into the education profession, especially since preparation programs are having trouble getting qualified candidates in the doors.

This is predicated on the assumption that students with higher ACT scores will ultimately become better teachers. Whether or not that’s true, it ignores the underlying reality: Teaching just may not be a very attractive field. That’s not the fault of schools of education and it certainly isn’t their responsibility to fix it.

In fact, Tennessee has been looking at a coming teacher shortage for years now. Districts like MNPS are already seeing the impact.

Why might teaching be unattractive? Well, for one, the pay is not exactly great. In fact, Tennessee teachers earn about 30% less than their similarly prepared peers. Boosting pay may be one way to help make the field more attractive. Alternatively (and much cheaper), the state could send the outgoing Commissioner of Education on a tour of schools to attempt to persuade high achieving students to enter a profession where they can expect to earn significantly less than other professionals and be subjected to a testing and evaluation system that according to some is “driving teachers crazy.”

Another factor? Our state under-funds the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) by around $500 million. So, new teachers face low pay, a problematic evaluation system, and under-resourced schools. Is it any wonder teacher prep programs aren’t getting enough qualified applicants?

Nevertheless, teacher prep programs are being held “accountable” for fixing problems over which they have little control. Makes perfect sense.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Teachers Aren’t Dumb. Their Training May Be.

Daniel Willingham has a great piece in the New York Times today that discusses the notion that teachers are dumb. Of course they are not dumb! They just may have not been trained properly. This is totally true when it comes to reading:

Consider reading. In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”

 

It could be that the professors don’t know it as well.

Of greater concern, those who educate future teachers don’t know them either. Emily Binks-Cantrell of Texas A&M University and her colleagues tested 66 professors of reading instruction for their knowledge of literacy concepts. When asked to identify the number of phonemes in a word, they were correct 62 percent of the time. They struggled more with morphemes, correctly identifying them 27 percent of the time.

Willingham makes the point that it is hard to evaluate the teachers on test scores of students when the teachers are not properly trained in the first place. They have been left in the dark. Let’s not leave our future teachers in the dark. Let’s get to work improving our teacher prep programs.

Much of what makes a teacher great is hard to teach, but some methods of classroom instruction have been scientifically tested and validated. Teachers who don’t know these methods are not stupid; they’ve been left in the dark.