Tennessee teacher preparations questioned

Tennessee teacher preparations questioned

November 1st, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

Cleveland and Bradley County high school teachers attend a conference on shaping 21st Century classrooms in this file photo. The conference was sponsored by a federal grant.

Cleveland and Bradley County high school teachers attend...

Photo by Randall Higgins /Times Free Press.

The state's mechanism for grading teacher preparation programs needs fixing, according to a recent state study.

But, in a separate move, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will roll out a new report card today, looking at how well the state's colleges and universities prepare teachers.

A legislative brief released last week noted many shortcomings in the higher education commission's Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs.

Included in the major findings of the legislative brief, released by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's Offices of Research and Education Accountability:

  • The state's report card doesn't include teacher effectiveness data on all teachers in Tennessee classrooms. No data is available for teachers in noncore subject areas such as special education, art or physical education.

  • Data on teacher placement and retention rates do not include everyone from Tennessee teacher preparation programs or teachers trained in out-of-state programs. The report card also doesn't account for Tennessee-trained teachers now teaching in other states or for those teaching in private schools.

  • The report card does not evaluate the overall quality or provide a ranking system for Tennessee's teacher preparation programs.

None of the findings come as a surprise to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which will publicly release its revamped report card today.

Many flaws pointed out in the study will be fixed with the new version, said Emily Carter, THEC's assistant director of First to the Top initiatives, which is funding the new report card. In addition to providing more effectiveness data, the report card should be an easier read than past versions, Carter said.

"It wasn't very user-friendly. It was very technical," she said. "We're trying to do a better job of explaining the data."

The report card now will provide demographic information from institutions that include teachers' GPAs and average ACT scores as well as the specific school districts in which they're teaching. The report card also will include program-specific data such as a school's master's in special education program versus its bachelor's in elementary education program. But that specific data will only be released to the institutions, Carter said.

The report card still won't include a system for ranking institutions, but Carter said that never was the goal of the statewide report card. It's meant to provide feedback to institutions, as well as give the public a better understanding of the effectiveness of individual programs.

"Really it's to improve teacher preparation," she said. "The hope is that, with more data that's published, it will hold those programs accountable."

Associate legislative research analyst Joseph Woodson said last week's legislative brief wasn't prompted by a legislative inquiry -- which is the case for most studies by his office. While many of the brief's findings already were known, it was meant to provide information on how the report card is changing, he said.

"This was just an informational piece," he said. "We just decided to look at this and really provide a simple 1, 2, 3, here's what's going to change."

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