Iowa Ranks Low on Teacher Prep as Governor Seeks Revamp

Iowa Ranks Low on Teacher Prep as Governor Seeks Revamp
February 15, 2013

Sheena Dooley

Sheena Dooley reports for IowaWatchdog.org, where an earlier version of this story appeared. Used... (read full bio)
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DES MOINES, Iowa—Iowa’s teacher-preparation programs fail to produce graduates who are ready to lead a classroom, according to a new study that quickly drew fire from some educators.

The National Council on Teacher Quality released its “2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook” in January, grading Iowa’s teacher preparation as just below the D-plus national average. The state fell short on requiring elementary and secondary teachers to pass content-specific courses, holding teacher colleges accountable for their graduates’ classroom performance, and ensuring student teachers have demonstrated success, according to the report.

It cited Iowa as one of 36 states that did not improve over the previous year as measured by the policy changes state legislators did or did not adopt.

Governor Focuses on Teachers
Gov. Terry Branstad (R) released a plan for altering Iowa teacher preparation about two weeks before the report was released. Branstad would raise starting teacher pay, create a tiered system where proven “mentor teachers” earn more, and tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

“The governor in Iowa has been talking about these issues,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of NCTQ. “The director of the state department has been talking about them. There are some policy pieces that are playing out in the regulation writing process. At the policy level, the ball just needs to keep rolling.”

Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, did not directly contest the group’s findings, but he categorized their measurements as nonobjective policy preferences.

“Teacher preparation is a major driver for schools,” Glass said. “But this study is different than to say if a report card came out that said how many kids there were in poverty—objective indicators. This is policy-driven.”

Iowa did take steps last year to improve teacher preparation, with lawmakers approving a requirement for incoming teachers to pass tests in pedagogy and content, he said. Officials with the Iowa State Board of Education are also just a few months away from acting on a proposal to redesign accreditation requirements for colleges of education, although details remain vague.

Shocking Policies
The report reveals several shocking policies states hold on teacher preparation. These include that 26 states require teachers to take middle-school-level tests, or none at all, to receive certification. Every state but Texas holds a lower bar for prospective teachers than it does for general college admission. Every state but Massachusetts sets the passing score for elementary teacher licensing tests at below the average score for all test takers, and most states set the bar for passing at the 16th percentile or lower, meaning that 84 percent of test takers pass.

Only eight states track the graduates of teacher colleges by student achievement to measure teacher college quality: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

Because of these pervasive low standards, the report gives states low marks all around and recommends fix changes: raising admissions standards for teacher preparation, align teacher preparation with the Common Core K-12 math and science standards, improve new teachers’ in-class preparation, raise licensing standards, and raise requirements for special education teachers, and measure teacher colleges by their students’ ability to educate.

Long Collaboration
Kate Walsh, the Council’s president, came to Des Moines to speak two years ago at Branstad’s national education summit that highlighted issues facing the state’s schools and provided examples of how others have successfully addressed them. Walsh gave several presentations based on the council’s solutions for improving education, some of which were reflected in the report released this week.

Jean Hessburg, spokeswoman for the Iowa State Education Association teachers union, said she is skeptical of grades from groups like the national council. As an example, she cited the low academic performance of states that received B-, the top grade achieved by any state. Alabama, Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee all earned that grade, but typically produce subpar student performance, she said.

Teacher Quality Recommendations
The report criticized Iowa practices involving admission to teacher-preparation programs; elementary, middle and high school preparation; student teaching; and teacher-preparation accountability.

The report recommended Iowa require a common teacher college admissions test and that its accepted students score in the top half, while requiring elementary teacher candidates take a content test assessing all subject areas. Graduates also should have to pass a test gauging their skills in the “science of reading” and specialize in one content area, the report said.

Additionally, Iowa middle and high school teacher candidates should have to pass a content exam for every subject area they teach, the report recommended. Student teachers should have to show their effectiveness through classroom results, and teacher-preparation programs should be accountable, either by collecting data to monitor the quality of educators they produce or setting minimum performance standards, the study said.

“The framework we developed was developed by looking at available resources, stakeholder groups, and best practices,” Jacobs said. “The good news is that states are making progress. The progress is not tremendous. But it’s showing that this is starting to grab the attention of states and they are starting to move forward.”

Sheena Dooley (dooley@iowawatchdog.org) is a reporter for Iowa Watchdog. This article is reprinted here with permission.

Learn more:
“2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2013: http://www.scribd.com/doc/122150278/Teacher-preparation.

Image by World Bank

Sheena Dooley

Sheena Dooley reports for IowaWatchdog.org, where an earlier version of this story appeared. Used... (read full bio)