75 folks at the University of Georgia College of Education signed a letter opposing the federal proposals to regulate teacher preparation programs. Kudos to teacher educators and non-teacher educators alike who can see the devastating consequences certain to come if these policies are implemented.
Teacher Preparation Issues
Comments supported by the below signed faculty, staff, students and administrators from the
University of Georgia College of Education
This is a letter authored and supported by the below signed administrators, faculty, staff, and students at the country’s first state-chartered public university and one of the nation’s largest colleges of education addressing proposed federal level changes to the evaluation of teacher preparation programs released by the federal government on December 3, 2014 and open for comments until February 2, 2015. In the proposed rules, states will be required to annually assign teacher preparation programs to one of four categories: low performing, at-risk, effective, or exceptional. Those labels will be designated based on the criteria proposed, including employment outcomes, k-12 student learning outcomes, student survey outcome data, and accreditation data. We are wholeheartedly invested in meeting the needs of k-12 students in high needs areas and their outcomes, though we are highly concerned about some of the foundational aspects of these proposed rules.
Put most simply, our concerns in relationship to these proposed rules are:
- Value added measures do not work to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness nor a teacher preparation program’s effectiveness.
- The cost of complying with the proposed rules will be excessive and unnecessary.
- There is a disincentive for teachers to teach in high-need contexts because of the high stakes placed on student learning outcomes measured by standardized tests.
As teachers, teacher-educators, researchers, staff, students, and administrators we are each dedicated to high quality, impactful, research-based teaching practices that aid in the development of 21st century citizens. We recognize that all stakeholders want many of the same things: the robust education of young people in our communities, the need to assure all students are subject to high expectations, and the recognition that there is no excuse for poorly trained teachers. We recognize problems in k-12 education and in the preparation of teachers. Our work involves addressing these problems in the here-and-now, real time work of teacher education and in the context of k-12 public school classrooms.
In recognizing these shared concerns, we also recognize ways where we may depart and disagree with how to address them. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that not all disagreements are the same. For example, there is a new teacher certification program called edTPA, which represents something of a higher stakes “bar exam”- like a credentialing system for newly minted teachers. For many, this represents a top-down measure that seeks to diminish the autonomy of teacher educators. For others, though, edTPA is a way to establish nationally recognized standards for what teachers need to be able to know and do on their first day of teaching. The point here is that very smart people disagree about this issue. But there are some things about which very smart people tend to find consensus, and one of these is the inappropriateness of what are called “Value Added Measures” to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. There are many critiques of this model (example). Even those in support of using VAM recognize its shortcomings, weaknesses, and unreliability to identify a good teacher from a bad one.
If VAM measures are unreliable in the context of evaluating individual teacher’s work with their students in a particular classroom, then they become even more unreliable with their proposed use in the Department of Education’s rules. There, programs of teacher education are evaluated in terms of the test scores that their graduates’ k-12 students receive on standardized tests. If the previous sentence seems confusing, that’s because it represents something confounding: that a teacher preparation program is graded based not on the assessments of its own students (on things like, perhaps, edTPA), but on the assessments of the students of their students. Simply put, this is a bad policy.
Here’s why. The Center for Education Data and Research, whose research is cited in support of the proposed regulations to assess teacher education programs, claims in that very same cited research that “it is difficult, if not impossible to definitively assess the causal impact of training institutions on teacher candidates since the effectiveness of in-service teachers is likely to depend on both their individual attributes and what they learned while being trained”. That quote, however, was footnoted in the report, so maybe it was easy to overlook. In any event, the quote underscores something on which the research community (in teacher education, measurement, statistics and evaluation) agrees: VAM is an unreliable and invalid way to evaluate teachers or the programs in which they are prepared. The American Statistical Association concluded that only 1-14% of the variability in student test scores can be attributed to a single teacher. Even if we might disagree about the evaluation of teachers and teacher education, we have to agree that this particular idea should be dismissed, if for no other reason, because of its lack of grounding in research and expertise.
In addition to the fundamental flaw of using VAM models in the hopes of evaluating teacher and program effectiveness, the proposed regulations will require a new layer of bureaucracy to be housed at the state level and within each of the Institutions of Higher Education that house teacher preparation programs. Taxpayers’ dollars are already stretched thin in the state of Georgia and across the country. When it comes to funding public education, tax dollars that are currently used for high-stakes testing and compliance bureaucracies can be better invested in basic, high-quality education resources. If these federal policies for evaluating teacher preparation programs come to fruition, even more tax dollars will be appropriated for more data collection and compliance, and fewer for the educational needs of future teachers. And finally, given the emphasis on k-12 test scores in the evaluation of teacher preparation programs, it is highly likely that teacher preparation programs will be better served if their graduates find employment in schools and districts with higher standardized test scores. This will result in even more disincentive than there is now for the best prepared educators to work in the communities and schools that have the highest need.
With these issues in mind, it seems as though objections exist across the political spectrum. For our colleagues and neighbors and parents and family members who are conservative, these rules represent “big government” at its most problematic. The rules go from Washington D.C. think tanks straight down into our neighborhood classrooms. It goes against the prevailing logic of corporate culture that advocates against standardization and for creativity and innovation. For our liberal friends and associates, this represents a move to further dismantle the public institutions upon which the country has built its democratic traditions. Moreover, the reappropriation of already stretched public money to the creation and maintenance of bureaucracies to implement and maintain compliance is not worth the trade-off. This money could be better spent addressing system level issues in communities, schools, and partnerships. Yet, surprisingly, these moves leading up to the latest proposed rules have been supported by both Republican and Democrat policy makers. This leaves us curious and, frankly, a bit confused. Why do these seem to be the rules that make the most sense?
Our feeling is that there is immense pressure on all of us to substantially improve education, and on its face we see how these rules could make intuitive sense in a move toward meeting those ends. But according to extensive research and studies, standardized tests do not measure learning, achievement, or teacher effectiveness, no matter how much intuitive sense it makes. Therefore, it is our contention that we go back to the drawing board and draft new rules that include attention to not only the teachers and their preparation, but also attention to communities, families, and districts.
We do not stand against accountability in any way. We are in no way attempting to shield ourselves from public scrutiny or evaluation. In fact, we readily participate in accreditation processes that hold us to high standards of practice and continue in good faith to do so. We constantly re-evaluate our practice and programs to the meet the needs of teachers and students. We are hopeful that our models for these important functions are forged out of the best research practices available, rather than the fragile and unsupported logic of value added measures, increased bureaucracies, and diminished incentive to work in high-needs contexts.
James Garrett, Assistant Professor
Hilary E. Hughes, Assistant Professor
Ajay Sharma, Associate Professor
Kyunghwa Lee, Associate Professor
Stephanie Jones, Professor
Mardi Schmeichel, Assistant Professor
Brian W. Dotts, Clinical Associate Professor
Michelle M. Falter, PhD Candidate & Instructor of Record
Elizabeth A. Pittard, PhD Candidate & Graduate Assistant
Sonia Janis, Clinical Assistant Professor
Melissa Freeman, Associate Professor
Linda Harklau, Professor
Cynthia Vail, Professor
Erin Adams Graduate Teaching Assistant
Ruth Harman, Associate Professor
Lloyd P. Rieber, Professor
Gretchen Thomas, Instructor
Tanya R. Walker, Instructor
JoBeth Allen, Professor Emeritus
Bob Fecho, Professor
Ron Butchart, Professor
Rouhollah Aghasaleh, PhD Candidate
Martha Allexsaht-Snider, Associate Professor
Denise Davila, Assistant Professor
Denise Oen, Clinical Assistant Professor
Shara Cherniak, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Katie Wester-Neal, PhD Candidate
Eunji Cho, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Cory Buxton, Professor
Peter Smagorinsky, Distinguished Research Professor
Sara Kajder, Clinical Assistant Professor
Jamie C. Atkinson, PhD Student
Bethany Hamilton – Jones, Clinical Assistant Professor
Elizabeth Thompson – MEd Student
Jennifer Graff, Associate Professor
Cindy Blair-PhD Candidate
Amy Heath – Clinical Assistant Professor
Michelle Commeyras, Professor
Roger Hill, Professor
Jennifer J. Whitley, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Jennifer H. James, Associate Professor
Fuad Elhage, Instructor
Jessica Kobe, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Logan Garrett, Academic Advisor
Elizabeth A. St.Pierre, Professor
Jeremy Kilpatrick, Regents Professor
Kevin Moore, Assistant Professor
Leslie P. Steffe, Distinguished Research Professor
Patricia S. Wilson, Professor
Karen Hale Hankins, Assistant Part Time Faculty
Latoya Johnson, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Jessica Bishop, Associate Professor
Chris Linder, Assistant Professor
Joseph Tobin, Professor
Todd Dinkelman, Associate Professor
Suyun Choi, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Donna Alvermann, Distinguished Research Professor
- Gayle Andrews, Professor
Bob Capuozzo, Assistant Clinical Professor
Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Professor
Allison Nealy, Associate Clinical Professor and CCSD District-Wide Professor-in-Residence
Jolie Daigle, Associate Professor and NE GA RESA/Rutland Professor-In-Residence
Bryan McCullick, Professor
Mary Guay, Assistant Clinical Professor
Sally Zepeda, Professor, Educational Administration and Policy; and, Clarke County School District Professor-in-Residence.
Beth Tolley, Clinical Associate Professor
Bettina L. Love, Assistant Professor
Corey W. Johnson, Professor, Lifelong Education, Administration and Policy
In Heok Lee, Assistant Professor
Kathryn Roulston, Professor
Chang Liu, PhD student & Graduate teaching assistant
Xiaoying Zhao, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Katherine F. Thompson, Clinical Professor
Betty Bisplinghoff, Associate Professor
Jemelleh Coes, PhD Student & Field Supervisor