New Data on Teacher Education Begins to Flow

Stephen Sawchuk | Education Week

 There's a ton of new data on the state of teacher education beginning to come out, and it's ripe for analysis, if—and it's a big if—you know where to look.

The 2008 rewrite of the Higher Education Act changed many of the reporting requirements for teacher colleges, which are housed in Title II of that law. (See the embedded sidebar in this story for a summary of those changes.)

Now, those requirements have begun to generate data, beginning with the U.S. Department of Education's newly released report on the teacher preparation and credentialing in the U.S., and filtering down to states' and individual institutions' reports. Let's look at all of these in turn.

The new report out this week is ED's national report required under Title II. (It's supposed to be annual, but the agency said that the transition to the new requirements required it to smush together data collected in 2008, 2009, and 2010.) Even then, the 2010 data in this report is uneven because not all states and programs were able to provide the new information.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting new stats in here on, for instance, the teacher-preparation pipeline. (ED urged caution in interpreting 2010 data because of the aforementioned uneven reporting):

• In 2010, 71 percent of teacher-preparation programs were "traditional," 21 percent were "alternative" programs based at teacher colleges, and 8 percent were "alternative" programs not based at higher education institutions.
• A total of about 724,000 were enrolled in teacher-preparation programs in 2008-09, with 89 percent at traditional programs, 6 percent at university-based alternative routes, and 5 percent at nonuniversity-based alternative routes.
• Alternative programs, both in and outside of higher education, were more likely than traditional programs to require a minimum undergraduate GPA for admission to a postsecondary program, butless likely to require it for an undergraduate program. 
• Alternative programs in 2008-09 required 725 to 900 hours of student teaching, while traditional programs required about 514. (Of course, states defined these aspects differently.)

New information on some continued requirements: States identified 38 programs as "low performing" or "at risk" in 2010; and in 2008-09, pass rates on licensing tests averaged 96 percent for traditional programs and 97 percent for alternative ones.

Arguably even more useful are the state report cards, also required under Title II, which are submitted every fall. The newest ones, from 2011, have not yet been posted on ED's Title II website, nor have all states made them available yet.

A good representative example of what we'll ultimately be able to learn from the new requirements can be found in California's report, which is available from its credentialing board.

The reports contain information on teacher preparation and alternate-route programs' admission requirements for every institution in each state. And in one of the big sleeper stories of the HEA rewrite, states must now list the average scale scores on licensing tests, not just the passing rates on those tests.

Why is this an important distinction? Take a look at California's report. Average passing rates on the exams are quite high, usually in the 80 percent to 100 percent range. But for almost every test here, the average scale score is higher than the exam's cutoff score. That means the state has set the passing bar on these tests generally quite a bit below what the average test-taker scores on the test.

Finally, HEA requires the institutional-level report cards, which each higher education institution by law must report annually. Here's an example of one from Washington state. Though they're supposed to be made publicly available, they're often hard to find on the institutions' websites. (Kansas, helpfully, puts all its institutions' reports in one place.)

Institutions were supposed to set numerical goals for training teachers in shortage subjects and fields—for instance, increasing the number of special educators trained by 20 percent, or helping three new secondary science teachers get credentialed. In the institutional-level reports, you'll find the goals each institution set and whether or not they met them.

There's lots of fodder for analyses. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

•For which subjects, and to what extent, are states low-balling their teacher-test cut scores?
•Are institutions responding meaningfully in their goal-setting, taking into account the needs of local school districts?
•Which programs have the most detailed admissions requirements?

I'll certainly be looking into some of these questions. Will you?

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