Feds want to rate teaching programs

Students’ test scores are used by the state to measure their teachers, and soon they could also be used to rate where their teachers went to college.

The U.S. Department of Education is asking states to develop rating systems for teaching programs at colleges and universities. The rating systems would include factors such as students’ performance in the classroom and the ability of graduates to find and retain jobs.

Those ratings could impact whether a college receives federal grants that can help pay for teachers’ training and educations.

Local officials aren’t convinced a new rating system is necessary or effective. Colleges’ medical and business schools aren’t held accountable when a doctor commits malpractice or a business person commits fraud, for example, said Catherine Brown, head of the division of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.

The education program at IUPUC is already committed to ensuring new teachers are prepared for their first day in their own classroom, she said. IUPUC has about 100 students who have been accepted into its education program, and another 150 are interested in being accepted, Brown said. To get into the college’s teacher education department, students need at least a 2.5 grade-point average, and students cannot have a grade lower than a C in a core subject, such as math or science.

“It’s important to hold teacher education programs accountable for preparing future teachers with what we know are best practices,” she said. “I don’t know we can be held accountable for those graduates actually implementing what they learn in a teacher education program.”

Franklin College officials said in an emailed statement that their education department is considered one of the top teacher preparation programs in Indiana and that college officials are confident the program will continue to produce qualified K-12 teachers.

But the new ratings could be helpful for school districts hiring new teachers, educators said.

Most school districts already have impressions about which colleges are the most and least effective at training teachers based on people they’ve interviewed and hired, Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said. The new ratings could provide even more information to school districts about the colleges and universities that are training their future teachers, he said.

“We already know that some schools of education will graduate future teachers who will not be effective in the classroom. And we know that there are other schools of education that will graduate future teachers who will be effective in the classroom,” Ahlgrim said. “And we take that very seriously.”

At Greenwood schools, the most successful teachers typically have been those who graduated from programs that balance theoretical concepts with practical lessons. That means students get experience managing students in classroom, creating lesson plans and tracking students’ academic progress, along with studying and debating which teaching methods are the most effective, Ahlgrim said.

He said teaching programs at some colleges spend too much time talking about academic theories and not enough time preparing students to lead a classroom.

“The kids need someone who’s competent in classroom management, in lesson planning,” he said.

Brown is concerned about some of the factors that would be used for the ratings because they can vary widely from college to college and from school district to school district. Indiana University in Bloomington, for example, has more students who look for teaching jobs across the country, while IUPUC graduates typically stay in Indiana, she said. Comparing graduates seeking jobs across the country with those looking for jobs in Indiana isn’t an accurate measure, because the number of open teaching positions and the standards for those jobs vary, she said.

Students from different school districts also are likely to have different grades and test scores at the end of every school year, depending on factors such as family income. Students living at or near the poverty line sometimes have trouble keeping up in school because their parents can’t afford programs such as preschool, which are essential in preparing children for elementary school.

That means an IUPUC teacher who gets a job with Carmel-Clay schools could have students who earn different grades than a teacher who gets a job with Indianapolis Public Schools, Brown said. And it’s unclear whether the two sets of students’ grades would have equal weight when determining how well their teachers were educated in college, Brown said.

Ahlgrim knows that students from lower-income families may not have had the same opportunities as students whose parents make more money. But skilled teachers, who know how to track students’ progress and quickly intervene when a child falls behind, can help make up for that, he said.

“Nobody can avoid that,” he said. “And schools of education can’t dodge the reality of that.”

For now, Brown is hopeful colleges and universities will be able to work with state officials in charge of creating the rating system.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be in the conversation, but that’s sometimes a more political decision than anything,” she said.

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The U.S. Department of Education wants states to create a rating system, based on teacher effectiveness, that would be used to rate colleges and universities. Here are some of the factors that would be used:

  • Employment outcomes, including new teacher retention over three years
  • Teacher and employer feedback on surveys
  • Students’ academic progress and growth