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Reforming Teacher Prep Requires a Comprehensive Approach

• Sara Clements

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its second annual Teacher Prep Review, its no-holds-barred report evaluating teacher prep programs from across the country. One year later, and the second round of results are almost as dismal as the first:

  • Three out of four programs fail to recruit applicants from the top half of their incoming college class.
  • Less than half of all elementary programs require candidates to take even basic math and science courses.
  • Just 17 percent of elementary and special education programs include coursework to equip their teachers to use all five fundamental components of reading instruction.
  • Only 5 percent of programs have the basic components in place to ensure a strong student teaching experience.

It’s now widely recognized that the teacher preparation system in America is broken, even by those who don’t sit down with a cup of coffee to peruse the latest NCTQ report. And as a graduate of one of these programs, I have no qualms about stating my opinion on the matter. They’re pretty much, well, awful. A few bright lights shine across the nation, but for the most part, our teacher colleges stink.

In 2013, Florida passed a slew of teacher preparation reform policies, including ensuring that teacher candidates demonstrate a measurable impact on students before they graduate and that interns are only placed with “Effective” or “Highly Effective” teachers during their field experience, as determined by annual performance-based evaluations. But the hallmark of that legislation requires programs to be held accountable for the effectiveness of their program graduates. Just as Florida’s teacher evaluation system weeds out the weakest performers, under the new law, habitually under-performing programs will no longer be approved.

The Sunshine State took teacher prep policy a step further in 2014, allowing the State Board to approve, outright, alternative teacher preparation programs as pathways to educator certification. Because there are some stellar non-traditional programs out there, it’s easy to believe that alternative certification programs are inherently better than traditional ones. But as NCTQ points out, that’s not always the case. Not every charter school is going to be a KIPP or a Rocketship, and for that matter, not all KIPPs and Rocketships are going to live up to the reputation of their peers. But choice of any kind is just that—choice—and we have to start there.

In the quest to reform teacher preparation, there are two opposing schools of thought: improve traditional programs through increased regulation, or create an open marketplace and deregulate the whole system. But as we’ve learned in K-12 education, it’s not as simple as either/or.

In Florida, we’re doing both.

Clearly, as the results of this year’s Teacher Prep Review indicate, it’s going to take the implementation of a comprehensive set of policies before we see significant improvements in the quality of our programs, and time is not on our side. If we thought that alternative certification programs were a silver bullet, the evidence demonstrates otherwise. And if we believe that accountability alone will force the necessary changes, we are sure to be proven wrong there too.

We certainly have a difficult road ahead of us, but I’m excited for the future of Florida’s teachers, and more importantly, our kids.

About the author

Sara Clements

Sara is the Florida Regional Advocacy Director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Sara worked in the Florida public school system as an English/Language Arts and reading teacher, at a Title I middle school and later at a K-12 charter school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from the University of North Florida and a master’s degree in Education Policy from the Florida State University.