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What does it mean to be an ‘effective’ teacher preparation program?

This is one of the questions the new North Carolina Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission will have to examine. I have spent the better part of 10 years grappling with that same question while working with colleagues in teacher preparation assessment and evaluation, and I hope to be able to shed some light on this important question.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with student leaders in the College of Education at North Carolina State University at our annual “Dinner with the Deans” event.  This event is one of the highlights of my semester (and year) as it provides me with an opportunity to interact with some amazing young people. That night, as usual, I was reminded of our obligations. We have an obligation to these individuals, and by extension, an obligation to the children in North Carolina Public Schools. Our obligation is to prepare the very best teachers for our state.  

Teaching is complex work. Some might argue that preparing someone to engage in this work is even more complex. Our task is to take an individual with a passion to work with children and develop a teacher with the passion, knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be an effective educator. What makes this work so challenging? We have a limited amount of time (usually 2-3 years) and what feels like an infinite amount of content. Teachers must know their subject matter, but that is not enough, they must also have pedagogical knowledge and skill. It’s great if you know your subject matter, but can you deliver it in a way that is engaging while also ensuring it’s developmentally appropriate, challenging, and anticipates student thinking? Have you appropriately differentiated it to meet the needs of all learners? Have you identified the appropriate accommodations for children with specific learning needs? Can you meet the new Digital Learning Competencies for teachers through the integration of technology in productive and meaningful ways? Are you attentive to the social and emotional needs of children? Can you design assessments that will provide you with the type of information you need to improve your instruction and impact student learning? And all of this is just in the planning phase of teaching…now can you actually teach the content, manage your classroom, and attend to distractions or other pressing needs?

Teaching is complex. Learning to teach is not intuitive. Learning to teach is an active, complex, and ongoing process.

How do you know that a teacher preparation program is effective? Ultimately, a teacher preparation program must ask itself, “Do we prepare good teachers? How do we know?”  

To evaluate a teacher preparation program, we evaluate teacher candidates, their knowledge and performance, and their participation in curricular and co-curricular experiences. Aside from a standardized performance measure during the student teaching experience, such as the edTPA, it is difficult to compare the input metrics a program might use. Programs use standardized admission tests, GPAs, and assignments in courses, but these measures aren’t always an indicator of how effective a teacher will be. To effectively evaluate a teacher preparation program, we need to look to outcome metrics. I would argue these metrics would include objective measures including: a common performance measure during student teaching (edTPA), licensure exam pass rates, teacher performance (administrator evaluations during the first 3 years), K-12 student performance (as measured by the value-add score), teacher retention, and subjective measures including a survey of graduate perceptions and survey of employer satisfaction.

The majority of this data exists and can be found on the IHE Report Card published by the NC Department of Public Instruction. Having access to this data is only part of the solution to evaluating teacher preparation. The real answer is the use of the data.

Evaluating a teacher preparation program requires a systematic approach and every program must be engaged in a continuous improvement process. At the core of this process is a series of concepts:

  1. Attack one (or two) issues at a time. Too many challenges quickly becomes unmanageable.
  2. Use a preponderance of evidence from multiple sources to evaluate any element or component of your program.
  3. Be wary of any “quick fixes” or single data points.
  4. Include multiple perspectives and stakeholders.
  5. Identify existing models, refine, and utilize them more completely.
  6. Continually evaluate and reevaluate.

It is incumbent upon teacher preparation programs to use outcome measures to drive systematic improvement because high quality preparation matters. We in teacher preparation have an obligation to schools, students, and especially our own graduates. We are charged with implementing programs that are engaged in a continuous improvement process to prepare the absolute best teachers for North Carolina public schools.

Michael Maher

Michael Maher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration at the NC Department of Public Instruction.