Thursday, May 29, 2014

Proposals to change teacher preparation programs lack research foundation and ignore contradictory evidence

Two recent proposals to reform teacher training offer glib diagnoses and remedies – but neither one is based on sound evidence to support their claims or their proposals, according to a new review released today.

William J. Mathis reviewed the two reports for the Think Twice think tank review project. His review is published today by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

The two reports Mathis reviews are Fast Start, from TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), and Time to Improve, from the New America Foundation.

In Fast Start, TNTP proposes replacing teacher preparation – a four-year college degree program – with a five-week pre-service training followed by a closely monitored internship. In Time to Improve, the New America Foundation recommends federal regulation of teacher-education programs on the basis of, among other factors, how well their graduates’ pupils score on standardized tests.

Neither report is grounded in research, Mathis points out. Further, Time to Improve ignores  numerous technical and ethical issues, raised by a large body of recent experience and research, which caution against using standardized test scores to assess the quality of teacher preparation programs. The report “does not address why policymakers should favor such an extension, particularly in light of the long string of uncontrolled factors that intervene between a preparation program and the student performance of the program’s graduates,” Mathis writes.

Meanwhile, the TNTP Fast Start report “concludes with three self-evident aphorisms: practice improves teaching, teachers who master teaching skills do better, and inadequate performers should be weeded out,” Mathis writes. “Unfortunately, the TNTP report fails to show its policy prescription is effective or superior to other approaches.” In fact, the TNTP program turns teacher preparation into what Mathis calls “basic survival training.”

With their lack of solid evidentiary support and their disregard for the demonstrable flaws in their proposed remedies, Mathis concludes, “neither proposal provides useful guidance for teacher preparation policy.”

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