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Teacher Ed Needs Accountability

Tennessee Education Schools Need Accountability, Not a New Report Card

J. E. Stone, Ed.D.

December 8, 2016

Tennessee has had a Teacher Preparation Report Card since 2007 and it has had no impact on the effectiveness of Tennessee’s newly trained teachers. The reason is that the sanctions promised by Tennessee’s $500 million Race to the Top grant were never implemented.

As of 2015—the last year for which the number of “highly ineffective” teachers are reported–the state’s teacher training programs were producing more highly ineffective than highly effective new teachers. Highly ineffective teachers are ones who cause scores to stagnate and students to fall behind.

Instead of taking action on the problem, the state’s education leaders decided to redesign the report card and develop yet another reform package!

Moreover, they decided to reduce the emphasis on the “teacher-effect” scores—the only scores that directly measure teacher effectiveness—in the new report card. The remaining points in the new report card are earned for quality indicators that have a weak or indirect relationship to a teacher’s classroom effectiveness.

So why more policy and planning instead of action? The short answer is that no matter how rigorous State Board of Education standards might be, the implementation of teacher preparation reform remains in the hands of the agencies, institutions, and stakeholders that have historically presided over the system. Like most groups, they have blind spots. Parent and taxpayer priorities such as the elimination of highly ineffective new teachers are never going to be their front-burner concern.

The Race to the Top reforms urged state reform leaders to expand enrollment for effective programs and cap or downsize programs that produced the opposite. They were common sense reforms and the plan was signed by everyone from the State Board of Education to the State Department of Education to the Higher Education Commission. Apparently, however, as the money dried up so did the zeal for reform.

Reform-minded policymakers give teacher training little credit or blame for school outcomes, but they are mistaken. Faulty teacher preparation is arguably the root cause of Tennessee’s mediocre achievement outcomes. A majority of Tennessee’s students are economically disadvantaged and they enter school well behind their peers. Regrettably, their prekindergarten-through-third-grade teachers are not trained to help them catch up.

The adoption of a revised report card and yet another set reforms kicks the can down the road for another five years. Instead of incentivizing teacher training programs to seriously consider whether their training supports Tennessee’s student achievement aims, policy leaders have given us a report card that obscures the problem and a reform package built around another variant of the thinking that has produced decades of failure.

Both the recent assessment by Tennessee’s State Collaborative of Reforming Education and today’s report by the National Council for Teacher Quality say that new teachers should be much better prepared. However, without accountability and consequences, Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs are going to do what they have always done: Quietly ignore the public’s concerns and march to the beat of their own drummer.

J. E. Stone is a professor in the College of Education at East Tennessee State University and President of the Education Consumers Foundation (www.education-consumers.org)