Out of “Chaos,” A Call for Improved Educator Preparation

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Inputs and outcomes. Much of the debate in education policy comes down to which is seen as more important, the inputs or the outcomes. To get even more pointed about it, the discussion is often process versus results.

Such a simplification may seem a little harsh. It isn’t meant to say that those concerned with the process don’t care about results, or those focused on outcomes don’t understand the importance of inputs. But it represents a very real schism in our current edu-thinking.

We can see such a debate playing out in a number of areas, including educator preparation. Recently, Deans for Impact released a new study looking at the use of outcomes data in educator preparation. In it, the group found just six of 23 programs studied had access to student achievement data connected to the educators passing through their programs. And less than a third of programs had access to other forms of data that measured the performance of their graduates. Results clearly losing out to inputs.

It is important to note, in looking at outcomes data, Deans for Impact examines a number of different sources. Graduate surveys. Employment status and location. Long-term retention Employer surveys. Classroom observation of graduation. Student achievement data. Teacher evaluation scores of graduate. There is no one measure of an effective ed school graduate. It is a blend of multiple measures and multiple tools. Yet it is a blend still missing from the vast majority of educator prep programs.

Deans for Impact did more than just point out a shortcoming, though. In From Chaos to Coherence: A Policy Agenda for Accessing and Using Outcomes Data in Educator Preparation, the group of education school deans distilled the future of education preparation efficacy down to two major policy prongs:

1. Improving data access through policies that provide educator preparation programs with data on the performance of their graduates; and

2. Developing a new outcomes-focused certification process that recognizes programs that voluntarily agree to prepare educators who are demonstrably effective.

In offering these policy recommendations, the group highlights a very important discussion that needs to happen in education today. In K-12, we are clear that students should not be measured by one single data point. We call for multiple measures, which together can help determine if a child is truly learning. Throughout the process, we demand that educators receive access to student data in real time, allowing them to tailor instruction to meet the specific needs of the learner. Only through these two steps can we ensure effective teaching and learning in the classroom. It isn’t enough to simply look at a student’s previous year’s test scores to determine their achievement in the new year. We need multiple measures to provide deeper understanding of both their progress and their ability to take what is learned and apply it.

Why, then, are we not demanding the same in educator preparation? Imagine the power for improvement if our education schools and teacher preparation programs had access to formative, interim, and summative assessment data from all of the individuals enrolled in their programs. Imagine the value of knowing a program’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to both content knowledge and pedagogy. Imagine being able to quantify what those school districts and schools that hire new educators already intuitively know about the programs preparing their teachers.

Even more importantly, envision an educator preparation world where those entering the teaching profession are able to demonstrate what they know and are able to do when it comes to leading a classroom. A process where certification is based on how educators apply what is learned in real teaching situations and where they are able to demonstrate their knowledge and ability beyond a bubble sheet.

When it comes to our children, we often speak of a rapidly changing world, one where the need for the physical muscles of the industrial age is now being replaced by the need for stronger mental muscle in the information age. As a nation, we committed to boosting the percentage of college graduates in the United States, making it the highest percentage of grads in the world. Such transitions and commitments are of little value, though, if they don’t reflect the improved learning and abilities that the careers of the future and a 21st century degree is meant to represent.

If we want our children to be critical and creative thinkers, individuals who possess a true love of learning and a deeper ability to demonstrate it, we must ensure they have like-minded educators guiding them through the process. They need teachers who both know and do, instructional leaders who are able to adapt to the individual learner and specific lesson. They demand educators who personify the balance of both inputs and outcomes.

Such teachers are the result of preparation programs rooted in content knowledge, pedagogy, and the ability to successfully demonstrate both. The path to such a destination is a competency-based approach to educator preparation, an approach rooted in the sort of data and outcome measures that Deans for Impact is calling for.

With from Chaos to Coherence, these ed school deans are issuing a clarion call for educator preparation. It is a call that some are already working to address. And it is one we must solve if we are to find that blend of inputs and outcomes, of process and results, that are necessary to ensure every child ultimately has access to the high-quality public education necessary to succeed in the future.

From educator prep chaos, we can find more than coherence. We can find excellence and success, both from teachers and their students.

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