published Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Tennessee teacher programs called to account

Rebecca Sanford, right, a Tennessee Tech master's student, works fractions in sixth-grade math class Wednesday with Lauryn Russell, lower left, and La'Jerreion Burnette at East Lake Academy.
Rebecca Sanford, right, a Tennessee Tech master's student, works fractions in sixth-grade math class Wednesday with Lauryn Russell, lower left, and La'Jerreion Burnette at East Lake Academy.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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LOWEST PERFORMING

The report card points out nine programs for producing teachers with the lowest student achievement gains:

  • Tennessee State University
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • University of Tennessee at Martin
  • South College
  • Tennessee Wesleyan College
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Memphis Teacher Residency
  • Trevecca Nazarene University
  • Union University

Source: 2011 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs

Tennessee's teacher preparation programs are turning out a wide variety of educators, from woefully unprepared to high achieving, according to a new state report.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission released its Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs this week and shows that, of the state's 41 teacher-training programs, only three produce graduates that enter the classroom and are immediately more effective at teaching than veteran teachers who've had more than three years of experience.

And the report points to the state's retention problem, which has many leaving the teaching field within the first three years.

The report card looks at traditional programs at the state's public and private universities that graduate education majors, as well as alternative programs, which grant transitional teaching licenses to those from noneducation fields -- such as a biology teacher with a science major.

The report's results can't be ignored, because research shows that effective teachers are the top school-based factor in improving student achievement, said David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communication for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Tennessee nonprofit, nonpartisan reform group.

"Identifying and looking at the effectiveness and the kinds of teachers that are being produced by these programs is an important first step," he said. "I think it is a call to arms."

Among the findings of the statewide report card are:

  • Only three programs -- Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville and Lipscomb University in Nashville -- produce new teachers whose students do better on state tests than veteran teachers.
  • A significant number of teacher programs have a tendency to produce teachers whose students do worse on state tests than veteran teachers.
  • Traditionally licensed teachers in high school courses tend to perform at the same level as veteran teachers with the exception of Biology I, where students of traditionally licensed teachers tend to out-perform.
  • Alternatively licensed teachers tend to perform at the same level as veteran teachers in all grade levels and subjects with the exception of science, in which students of alternatively licensed teachers tend to have higher achievement levels.

ACCOUNTABILITY IN HIGHER ED

On a September visit to Chattanooga, former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee pointed to teacher-education programs as a crucial link in fixing the nation's education system.

Rhee, a vocal proponent of public education reform, said schools of education have largely been left out of the national conversation and debate on K-12 school reform. But if ensuring high-quality teachers in classrooms is a top priority, a look at the "factories" producing the teachers is crucial, she said.

"I believe strongly that accountability has to sit at every level -- from students and their parents to teachers, principals, central office administrators and to schools of education as well," Rhee said during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board. "And in large part, in this whole debate around education reform, they've been given a pass. And I think that has to change."

Valerie Rutledge, director of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's School of Education, disagrees. Education programs like UTC's have worked hard to keep up with school district needs and reform efforts so they'll know how best to prepare teachers, she said.

"I don't know of a single year where we haven't been asked by a variety of organizations and institutions to take a long, hard look at ourselves," she said. "The frequent and rapid change that's taking place in K-12 education is a challenge for all of us."

In their first years in a classroom, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga-trained teachers perform no better or worse than education students from other schools across the state, the report card said. While UTC students didn't out-perform peers in any one subject or grade level, Rutledge said she's encouraged that they also weren't cited as being more ineffective in any of those areas.

"I think to a certain extent it is reassuring," she said. "Because overall, the people who are graduates of programs here at UTC or affiliated with us are helping their students achieve at the same rate as other teachers who are out there."

Cheri Dedmon, director of TEACH/Here, a local urban teacher residency program, said the report card might point out one of the missing pieces in teacher-preparation programs -- experience in the classroom.

"In higher education, they're great with research and theory, but they don't have the practice piece," she said.

TEACH/Here recruits people from noneducation fields to teach math and science in Chattanooga and Knoxville. Students take graduate courses for a year, but also spend two full semesters paired with a master teacher in an urban school. That's different from a traditional education program, which would only require a six-week stint in the classroom, Dedmon said.

At the end of the year, TEACH/Here graduates have a master's degree, one year's teaching experience and a teaching license. No achievement data yet exists for TEACH/Here teachers because the program just graduated its first class last year.

Dedmon said experts have always studied higher education's inputs -- what kinds of students are entering programs. But, she suspects the effectiveness of teachers will soon be the focal of research on education programs.

"They're going to start backtracking to the pipeline of teachers," she said. "And they're going to start looking at these programs."

The state report card showed that another nontraditional teacher preparation program, Teach for America, outperformed nearly all other teacher preparation programs in the state in terms of student gains.

Teach for America, where Rhee began her teaching career, is a highly competitive program that recruits professionals with no prior classroom experience to teach in some of the nation's poorest schools. Entering teachers train for one summer before taking over a classroom of their own. The program grants teacher licenses and also gives money to participants that they can put towards graduate school.

One flaw of such programs, officials say, is the short time commitment required of participants. Teach for America requires a two-year classroom commitment, while TEACH/Here graduates commit to four years after their first residency year.

Such short participation could further exacerbate the state's challenges at retaining teachers, some say.

The Tennessee report card shows that only about 50 to 60 percent of teachers, depending on which program they graduated from, stay in education for at least three years after graduating. Reasons for leaving are varied, including moving to another state or profession for better pay, burnout and layoffs.

"I think one of our real challenges is how we help support them and keep them here once they get in the classroom," Dedmon said.

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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AlmostAmanda said...

I will admit that my teaching program did not adequately prepare me to enter the classroom. That being said, using test scores as the ultimate measure of success is a woefully inadequate measure of teacher quality or student achievement. Real learning and quality teaching involve far more than scoring well on the TCAP test. The fact that so many "reformers" and politicians can't seem to understand this is one of the biggest problems facing education today.

November 3, 2011 at 9 p.m.
bapman1 said...

It's good to see Tennessee's schools of education starting to look at improving their results. They pretty much have to, given the fact that their results lag behind those of non-university programs like Teach for America (see last year's results at http://www.education-consumers.org/THE.htm; new results to be posted soon), which cost less money and take less time to complete. I'll be more encouraged when I hear that these schools of education are embracing, and preparing their students to leverage, the state's value-added assessment system - something that has yet to happen.

November 4, 2011 at 2:23 p.m.
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