Louisiana on the Cutting Edge of Teacher Prep

December 16, 2009

For the longest time, schools of education have gotten a free pass. Amidst the tough talk of school reform and real accountability for schools, teachers and students, very little has been said or done to hold schools of education accountable for what they produce.

Until now. Enter Louisiana's new system for tracking teacher performance based on the schools that teachers come from. It's the first statewide system of its kind, but it likely won't be the last.

The key to the system is the buy-in of the state's various schools of education. As E. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, observes, the state's system is "accountability on steroids."

Under the new program, data will be compiled on value added learning gains (how much students improve from year to year) and aggregated based on teacher training schools, the vast majority of which are based in the state's universities and colleges. Schools that consistently produce graduates who struggle to improve student achievement can face mandatory reforms and even closure.

Undoubtedly there will be those in the anti-standardized testing crowd who criticize this proposal as further entrenching the role of standardized assessments in K-12 education. There will also be some who believe that evaluating teachers is itself an impossible endeavor, much less evaluating where they were trained.

But these criticisms miss the crucial mark: what Louisiana's data system does is provide policy makers with key information about what is working and what is not. A college that regularly graduates first-rate teachers should not only be recognized and rewarded, it should serve as a model for schools that churn out low-performing teachers.

The potential downstream effects of this kind of data system and public recognition (and shaming) device are profound: some day it might be seen as prestigious to enroll in a school of education that is recognized for producing high-performing teachers, and school districts would do well to use signals such as graduation from a top teacher-training program in hiring decisions.

In the long run this may lead to a higher education landscape where students actually compete for spots in the best programs -- the exact kind of message we want to send to talented young people who are interested in the teaching profession. In other words, what starts with the simple process of gathering data may well lead to cultural changes in the way teachers and teacher training is perceived by society writ large.


Aaron Tang is the co-director of Our Education, a non-profit organization working to build a national youth movement for quality education. He also teaches 8th grade history in Saint Louis, MO.


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