The Teacher Prep Debate – Of Double Standards and Managerial Dodge Ball

March 5, 2012 at 12:29 PM Leave a comment

Teacher prep programs cannot be forced to maintain a longitudinal tracking system on the career progress of their alums. Such a system would violate the privacy of the individuals who were monitored, answer only genuinely academic questions – not timely solutions to problems, and crowd out more prudent investments in higher education for teachers. In the meantime, districts would be allowed to dodge accountability for talent management while sitting in the real locus of control. All the while, a revolving door of TFA darlings would bypass scrutiny as they churned through the schools with guaranteed turnover. In the end, the only real change in the picture would be a serious fracture in the long history of collaboration between teacher prep programs and school districts – one of the greatest assets we might have leveraged.

Teacher prep programs are being targeted for accountability in teacher quality. Under consideration is a Federal plan to have schools of education track their graduates for up to ten years after program completion. The goal is to sort the good from the bad and hold the prep programs accountable for any shortcomings in future teacher performance. The hair on the back of my neck is raised as I consider the Bill of Rights, school district responsibility for talent management, and the perennial boot camp teacher prep experiments. School districts and teacher prep programs have a long history of collaboration. Why kill this strength by pitting the two against one another?

Employers are responsible for hiring the best people for every job, supervising and motivating them effectively, and assessing their continuing value to the endeavor. Employees enter an organization honestly and with appropriate preparation. They share responsibility for keeping themselves whole on the job. Continuous growth and professional development must be valued on both sides of the contract. When these conditions are not met, employers and employees have a problem to solve. External parties may be asked to facilitate the process, but nowhere do labor standards call for privacy invasion or deflection of responsibility onto unrelated parties.

Teacher prep programs are supposed to get their students ready as teachers. School districts hire those people, and the locus of control over the situation is transferred. The education schools are essentially off duty with regard to specific students. In fact, just as the districts must have permission from prospective new teachers to seek information from their prep programs, the prep programs have no right to seek and track employment data about anyone except their own employees. They have no right to invade the privacy of their alums. Nor do they have any control over the conditions of employment that exist after students leave their programs.

Employment is always a “buyer beware” situation. If districts suspect they have hired teachers who are inadequately prepared for the job, they are protected by probationary employment contracts. Experienced leaders must assess the situation and, in consultation with the new hire, make a plan to remediate and reassess. A trend in bad hires from particular teacher prep programs is instructive much more rapidly than a gratuitous multi-year tracking system. In addition, prep programs may well have addressed constructive feedback from districts and improved their outcomes before the negative data stream has been aggregated, analyzed and reported.

And what about alternative pathways to credentialing of new teachers? I happen to believe many of these programs bring good teachers into the education field, but they benefit from a double standard in any regulation of quality. Teach for America (TFA) only asks for a two-year commitment, by which time novice teachers are considered barely adequate practitioners. Yet we only hear good news about their contributions and worry about losing them to what is prescribed turnover, not issues of quality.

Schools of education and school districts may continue to leverage their relationships to improve teacher prep as well as sustaining educator vitality on the job. However, their primary roles should not become blended, nor should their respective accountabilities be diffused.

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Entry filed under: School Leadership, Teacher Effectiveness, Teacher Prep.

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