stephanie jones

Faculty and Students at UGA College of Education speak out against Federal proposals to regulate Teacher Preparation

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2015 at 11:35 am

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.

Comment

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.

Signed,

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

  1. 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

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