A New Approach to Teacher Education Reform and Improvement

Archived Information

A New Approach to Teacher Education Reform and Improvement

Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Education Sector Forum, September 30, 2011

October 3, 2011

Thank you all for coming out today—and my special thanks to Dennis Van Roekel and Wendy Kopp for joining me here and to the remarkable group of educators and leaders in the field who are participating in our panel discussion.

Dennis has shown tremendous courage on this issue for a long time. He has said repeatedly that we can't 'fire our way to the top'. I absolutely agree with that. He has said that states should take the lead in making sure that everyone who enters the classroom is ready to be successful with those students. And I couldn't agree with that more. So, Dennis, thank you for your consistent leadership on this issue.

I don't think anyone in the country has done more over the past 15 to 20 years than Wendy Kopp to identify the talents and characteristics that lead to great teaching. This is complicated stuff—there is no easy formula. And no one has done a better job of tracking the impact that their graduates and alumni are having in the classroom. Wendy is relentless in looking at that data and honestly self-reflecting on what is working and what's not working in their program. [Teach for America] has been a great movement for our country, so thank you, Wendy, for your leadership and commitment here.

This is an auspicious day. We're here to talk about how to better support and strengthen teacher education programs. And we're here to talk about our department's plan to help school leaders, states, and teacher preparation programs meet the urgent mission of elevating teacher preparation programs throughout America.

That mission is central to the future of our children and our nation in a globally competitive, knowledge-based economy. And the importance of top-notch teacher preparation is now acknowledged the world over.

In fact, strengthening teacher preparation is going to be the focus of next year's International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City.

A powerful, diverse bipartisan coalition is here today supporting reform and the Department's plan. It is a coalition that includes diverse groups, like the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, and Teach for America, one of the nation's largest and strongest alternative certification programs for new teachers.

It includes state superintendents from both parties from Chiefs for Change and big-city superintendents from the Council of the Great City Schools. It includes elected officials, like my good friend, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. It includes both longstanding skeptics and longstanding supporters of schools of education.

Deb Ball, the visionary dean of the ed school at the University of Michigan, helped inform our proposal, as did Jim Cibulka at the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. I was with Deb recently at the University of Michigan's School of Education, which is one of the best teacher education schools in the country. And Jim has been a great and courageous leader who is showing the way in this field.

To all of you, I want to express our thanks for your wisdom, guidance, and support.

Now, the starting point for this conversation and for this unusual coalition is simple: supply and demand. The math here is straightforward. In the next decade, 1.6 million teachers will retire, and 1.6 million new teachers will take their place. This reality presents a true challenge and an amazing opportunity.

My goal—our shared goal—is that every teacher should receive the high-quality preparation and support they need, so that every student can have the effective teachers they deserve. But unfortunately, we all know that the quality of teacher preparation programs is very uneven in the U.S.

In fact, a staggering 62 percent of all new teachers—almost two-thirds—report they felt unprepared for the realities of their classroom. Imagine what our country would do if 62 percent of our doctors felt unprepared to practice medicine—you would have a revolution in our medical schools.

Only half of current teacher candidates receive supervised clinical training. Less than 15 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools come from the top third of college graduates. And districts regularly report teaching shortages in high-need subjects like science, engineering, math, and special education.

The current system that prepares our nation's teachers offers no guarantees of quality for anyone—from the college students themselves who borrow thousands of dollars to attend teacher preparation programs, to the districts, schools, parents, and, mostly importantly, the children that depend on good teachers to provide a world-class education.

It is stunning to me that, for decades, teacher preparation programs have had no feedback loop to identify where their programs prepare students well for the classroom and where they need to improve. Our teacher prep programs have operated largely in the dark, without access to meaningful data that tells them how effective their graduates are in the classroom.

A good feedback loop and accountability system would reward high-performing teacher preparation programs and scale them up. It would help programs in the middle of the spectrum to self-correct and improve. And it would support states to reshape low-performing programs—or eliminate low-performers that fail to improve over time, even after receiving help.

Under our plan, teacher preparation programs will be held to a clear standard of quality that includes but is not limited to their record of preparing and placing teachers who deliver results for P-12 students. As Deb Ball says, "it's the outcomes of teacher preparation that matter most."

Now, this all sounds like common-sense. But it is not even close to how America's teacher preparation system operates today.

And let me be the first to say that the federal government has absolutely been part of the problem. For far too long, we have been a compliance machine, rather than an engine of innovation.

Our survey of teacher preparation programs, required under the Higher Education Act, has 440 fields that programs fill in. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not.

Even worse, that burdensome, bureaucratic survey focuses on inputs, not on primary outcomes—like the job placement and retention of program graduates, or their impact on student learning in the classroom.

We know, too, that the existing accountability system is weak to non-existent. The Higher Education Act requires states to identify and improve low-performing programs. But few states hold any teacher preparation program to a meaningful standard of quality.

In 2010, states identified only 37 low-performing teacher preparation programs at over 1,400 institutions of higher education. During the last dozen years, more than half of the nation's states have failed to identify a single low-performing program. This would be laughable, if the results weren't so tragic. People rightly expect that teacher certification or licensure should be based on a demonstration of effectiveness. Unfortunately, that's not the case today.

Paper-and-pencil licensure tests for teachers are not rigorous, meaningful, or useful. More than 95 percent of applicants pass their licensure exams nationwide. And licensure tests do not reflect either the skills new teachers need, or indicate how they will perform in the classroom.

Our other teacher preparation program under the Higher Education Act—the TEACH Grant program—provides scholarships to recruit teachers to work in high-need schools.

The TEACH program is a fantastic idea. But it needs to be strengthened, so it can better serve its vital role, and support more rigorous accountability in teacher preparation programs and licensure.

Everyone here knows that maintaining the status quo in teacher education is unacceptable. As the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has said, teacher preparation needs to be "turned upside down" in America—with much more attention paid to selectivity, accountability, and developing a stronger clinical practice. I couldn't agree more with those recommendations.

So, today we are releasing our plan for teacher education reform and improvement.

We seek to create more accountability in teacher preparation programs, better prepare teachers for the classroom, boost student learning, and foster systems of continuous improvement. Unlike today's teacher preparation system, we want to reward good programs, improve the middle, and transform or eliminate consistently low-performing programs.

Our plan has three core elements. First, it would reduce the reporting burden on states, but help them build an effective data and accountability system, driven by essential indicators of quality.

Second, it would reform financing of students who are preparing to become teachers and direct scholarship aid to higher-performing teacher preparation programs.

And third, it would provide more support for institutions that prepare high-quality teachers from diverse backgrounds.

The first of those elements, improving institutional reporting and state accountability, follows on the pioneering work of a number of states, especially Louisiana.

Both Louisiana and Tennessee now have statewide systems that track the academic growth of a teacher's students by the preparation program where the teacher trained.

For the first time, teacher preparation programs in Louisiana and Tennessee are able to identify which of their initiatives are producing effective teachers and which need to be strengthened or overhauled.

It turns that there is a big difference between a strong preparation program and a weak one. Just as teachers are not interchangeable widgets, neither are the programs that prepare them. In fact, the variation between programs is stunning.

After controlling for student differences, the most effective preparation programs in Tennessee produce graduates who are two to three times more likely to be in the top quintile of teachers in a subject area. The least effective preparation programs produce teachers who are two to three times more likely to be in the bottom quintile.

Our Department would scale down the 440 fields in surveys that we now ask teacher preparation programs and states to fill out. We want states and teacher prep programs to report far fewer input measures. We must stop wasting their time and resources.

Instead, we want them to report on at least three outcome measures that are true indicators of quality: student growth for graduates of different preparation programs; job placement and retention rates of teachers, especially in shortage areas; and surveys of program graduates and principals that look at whether preparation programs provide graduates with the skills really needed to succeed in the classroom. Again, today the vast majority of new teachers, almost two-thirds, report they were unprepared to enter their classroom.

The second element in our reform plan, reforming scholarship aid for students who are studying to be teachers, would strengthen the TEACH grant program and incorporate it into a new $185 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program.

The bulk of funds in the Presidential Teaching Fellows program would be used for scholarships of up to $10,000 for high-achieving students in their final year of study at either high-quality traditional or alternative certification programs. The remaining funds would support statewide reforms, like upgraded teacher licensure and certification standards.

The third and final part of our plan is a $40 million budget request to support teacher preparation programs at minority serving institutions.

This new program would fund Augustus Hawkins Centers of Excellence at minority serving institutions, with awards expected to average $2 million per year. Congress has previously authorized the Augustus Hawkins Centers of Excellence. But it has yet to fund them, despite the pressing need for a more diverse teaching workforce.

I have been traveling across the country, trying to encourage the next generation of great talent, so that our teacher workforce represents the great diversity of the country. There is a growing imbalance today between what our students look like and what our teachers look like. And we have not seen nearly enough creativity and urgency brought to bear on addressing that imbalance. This would be a huge step in the right direction.

We want to work with Congress to build a world-class teacher preparation system, one that provides more accountability and builds better support for students looking to teach in high-needs schools. Senator Bennet has already shown great leadership by advancing the idea of a Presidential Teacher Corps.

As many of you know, earlier this year we requested $250 million for a new Teacher and Leader Pathways program to seed and scale-up programs that prepare teachers and leaders to be effective in high-need schools, subjects, and areas.

This competitive grant program would be modeled broadly after the Invest in Innovation or i3 program, and it would complement the teacher preparation reforms presented today. It would help the nation meet the goal of preparing 100,000 new teachers in science, engineering, math, and technology over the next decade.

Soon, we will begin a negotiated rulemaking process to solicit maximum input on improving the implementation of the Higher Education Act for teacher preparation programs.

Negotiated rulemaking takes time, and we want and need the guidance and wisdom of stakeholders in the field. But I would urge us to be bold and not simply tinker around the edges of the problem.

Today's system for accountability in teacher preparation programs is largely dysfunctional. It serves no one well. And that is totally unacceptable in a competitive, global economy.

America's teachers and America's children deserve world-class preparation programs that prepare teachers for today's classrooms and students for today's information age.

The need to improve teacher preparation programs is urgent. It cannot be deferred. Children get only one shot at a quality education.

I thank everyone here today for committing to the cause of improving teacher education in the U.S. Your courage, your willingness to tackle these longstanding problems—even when it takes you outside of your comfort zone—is helping lead the nation where we need to go.

Working together, collectively, you are helping bring us closer to the day when our education system lives up to the American promise of providing every child with the education that they need to succeed.