Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

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Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

November 16, 2010

A little over a year ago, I gave a speech on reforming teacher preparation programs at the Teachers College at Columbia that caused something of a stir. You may remember it.

To be sure, I was frank in my remarks at Columbia. I said our university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change, not evolutionary tinkering. And I recounted how teachers told me that their teacher preparation programs failed them in two ways.

Most aspiring teachers were not getting the hands-on practical training about managing the classroom they needed, especially for high-needs students. And teachers were not generally being taught to use data to differentiate and improve instruction, and boost student learning.

I urged every teacher education program to make better outcomes for students their overarching mission. And I called on every state in the country to begin holding teacher preparation programs accountable by following Louisiana's lead in tracking the impact of new teachers on student learning back to their teacher preparation programs.

But I had one other message at Teachers College that got less attention. I said I was actually optimistic about the changes underway in teacher preparation programs.

Today, I think that optimism is proving well-founded. The report of NCATE's Blue Ribbon Panel marks the most sweeping recommendations for reforming the accreditation of teacher preparation programs in the more than century-long history of our nation's education schools. America, as your report states, "needs an entire system of excellent [teacher preparation] programs, not a cottage industry" of exemplary initiatives. Without getting into the specific recommendations of your report, I love its direction.

The first sentence of your report captures this emerging spirit of reform. Without hemming or hawing, the Blue Ribbon Panel states: "The education of teachers in the United States needs to be turned upside down."

What does it mean to turn teacher preparation programs upside down? As your report spells out, it means flipping the content of current teacher preparation programs, which typically emphasize theoretical coursework, loosely supplemented by clinical experience of uneven quality.

Future teacher preparation programs should instead emulate the model of medical education. They would be fully-grounded in clinical practice, with evidence-based knowledge interwoven with academic content and professional courses.

At the same time, the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel report calls for ending the insidious practice of accrediting university-based preparation programs in the absence of rigorous evidence of the impact that graduates have on student learning in the classroom. For decades, teacher preparation programs have had little to no accountability for turning out effective teachers. Today, the accountability gap begins to close.

I often talk about the importance of courage in education reform. And today we have another remarkable example of it. NCATE is showing tremendous leadership and resolve in taking on the status quo. I absolutely applaud this Blue Ribbon report—and Jim Cibulka. Jim, you are leading the field, not following it.

The partners who have joined you here today also show an unparalleled commitment to dramatically strengthening the accreditation of teacher preparation programs. Sharon Robinson and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, and both the NEA and the AFT, are part of this effort. So are distinguished practitioners like Colorado state school chief Dwight Jones—soon to be the superintendent in Las Vegas—SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Beverly Hall, Tom Payzant, and Arthur Levine. Could you please give Jim and the members of this Blue Ribbon panel a round of applause? This is leadership in action.

My message to you today is: Persist in your efforts—don't lose faith or hedge on your core reform goals as you move toward implementing your report's recommendations.

I'll talk more about the Blue Ribbon Panel's report in a moment. But I'd ask you to step back for a second to remind ourselves why this work is so important to the future of our children and our nation.

In today's knowledge economy, it is no secret that education is the new game-changer. The days when students could drop out of school and land a good job are over. As all of you know, even high school graduates are finding that the number of good jobs open to them is severely restricted, unless they have some college or post-secondary training.

The global economy magnified many times over the importance of education, so that dramatically-accelerated achievement and attainment are now the key to preparing young people to be successful.

Education is the new engine of economic growth and American prosperity. And more than ever, education must be the great equalizer, the one global force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege.

As the Blue Ribbon panel notes, teachers are the biggest in-school influence on academic achievement and growth. And we know that when it comes to teaching, talent matters tremendously. A recent McKinsey & Company study pointed out a truism that bears repeating: "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." Or, as Linda Darling-Hammond puts it: "Every aspect of school reform depends on highly skilled teachers for its success."

In nations that are out-educating us today, the caliber of new teachers is a critical national priority.

By contrast, the United States needs to urgently elevate the teaching profession. And that is why we have launched a national teacher recruitment campaign.

In the next five years, we could lose a third of our Baby Boomer veteran teachers and principals to retirement and attrition. Up to one million new teaching positions will be filled by new teachers.

I am convinced that our ability to attract, prepare, and retain great teaching talent can transform public education in this country for the next 25 to 30 years. It is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I encourage you to learn more about our national teacher recruitment campaign at The goal of the campaign over the next five years is to take a giant step toward developing the finest, most diverse teaching force in the world, especially in high-need schools and subject areas.

Now, it is plain that we cannot strengthen the teaching force in the United States without also strengthening teacher preparation programs. We have proposed to double funding for teacher preparation, from $118 million last year to $235 million in fiscal 2011. We have to invest, and put our resources behind our core strategies.

Yet, it is equally clear that money alone is not the answer. As the importance of teacher preparation has risen, so have the demands and expectations placed on teachers.

The bar for successful teacher preparation programs has to be raised because we ask much more of teachers today than even a decade ago. Teachers are now asked to achieve significant academic growth for all students at the same time that they instruct students with ever-more diverse needs. Teaching has never been more difficult or more important—and the desperate need for more student success has never been so urgent.

It is also no secret that we have a shortage today of great teachers in the schools and communities where they are needed the most. Teacher openings in science and math—subjects that are so important to the future—are often hard to fill with effective instructors.

As a nation, we have far too few teachers of color. We have been far too reluctant to put the issue of race on the table. More than 35 percent of public students are black or Hispanic, but less than 15 percent of our teachers are black or Latino. It is especially troubling that less two percent—less than in fifty—of our nation's teachers are African-American males.

When I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, I used to go into elementary schools that did not have a single black male teacher, though most of the students were black and grew up in single-parent families. How can that be a good thing for young children, especially boys? The under-representation of African-American and Latino men in the teaching profession is a serious problem. And, as we have seen, it is not self-correcting.

If we are going to be honest, we have to acknowledge that previous federal efforts to strengthen accountability in teacher preparation programs have had a mixed record at best.

In 1998, Congress added provisions to the Higher Education Act that required postsecondary institutions to publicly report the pass rates of graduates of teacher preparation programs on state licensure exams. States were also charged with identifying low-performing teacher preparation programs.

But many postsecondary institutions and states subverted the intention of monitoring the pass rate of program graduates on state licensure tests. They redefined "program completers" to include only teaching candidates who successfully passed the state test. This resulted in a phony, intellectually dishonest pass-rate on state licensure tests of 100 percent at a slew of teacher preparation programs, year after year.

States were equally ineffective at identifying low-performing teacher preparation programs. Many states farmed this responsibility out to NCATE. But meaningful data on student outcomes was not available to NCATE to assess teacher preparation programs.

It is not much of a surprise, but state laxness in identifying low-performing teacher preparation programs led to a Lake Wobegon-effect where nearly all teacher prep programs were above average. I wish somehow that was true, or even possible, but we know better.

Out of roughly 1,400 teacher preparation programs nationwide, states have identified only 38 as low-performing—and more than a quarter of those are located in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and outlying areas. Just 14 states have identified a single teacher preparation program as low-performing. Even fewer states have taken action to actually improve a low-performing program.

That is unacceptable. It is time to start holding teacher preparation programs more accountable for the impact of their graduates on student learning. It is time for states, university-based preparation programs, and NCATE itself to do a better job of self-policing quality and poorly performing programs. It is time to make accreditation much more rigorous—outcome-based and propelled by clinical practice.

A survey of more than 700 education school professors released last month by the Fordham Institute found that only seven percent of teacher educators currently believe that accreditation means a program is top-notch. Nearly 90 percent said that accreditation assured only that a program was in procedural compliance or met a minimum base-line of acceptable quality.

Now, for all these reasons, I am enormously encouraged by this report of NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel. It challenges this failed status quo, instead of propping it up.

Your candor and thoughtfulness are like a breath of fresh air. The report calls for shifting to a clinical-based program for accreditation. It calls for linking student outcomes back to the teacher preparation programs where their teachers trained.

It is doubly encouraging that eight states, including California, New York, and Ohio, have already signed letters of intent to implement NCATE's recommendations. People know this is the right direction for children, for the field of education, and for the nation as a whole.

The NCATE Blue Ribbon report points out quite rightly that this transformation cannot be accomplished by teacher preparation programs working alone.

It takes a university to prepare a teacher and build strong content knowledge. And it takes school districts working hand-in-hand with teacher preparation programs to not only develop stronger clinical programs but provide the data needed to assess the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs.

I would also add that states also need to play a role in strengthening teacher preparation programs. States currently have a "crazy quilt" of more than 1,100 tests of basic skills, subject matter, and teaching knowledge for teachers to become licensed. And somehow, despite this Byzantine system, in many states the entry bar for becoming a teacher is set far too low. Sadly, it is the worst of both worlds—too complicated and bureaucratic, combined with dummied-down standards.

The NCAA requires the quarterback on the college football team to meet minimum requirements for his GPA and SAT scores. But many preparation programs don't set any minimum requirement for academic accomplishment for future teachers. It's as if we value our athletes' academic prowess more than that of our future teachers—our priorities are way out of whack.

Earlier this month, a study of teacher preparation programs in my home state of Illinois noted that the state basic skills tests for college students who want to become teachers are geared to an eighth grade level. Even worse, teacher applicants got five attempts to pass the basic skills tests. Speaking as a parent of two young children in elementary school, it is hard for me to imagine any parent wants their children taught by a teacher who failed a basic skills test four times.

So, yes, there are serious challenges that we must confront. But I also see unmistakable signs that states, for the first time, are making far-reaching changes to accountability systems for teacher preparation programs.

Since I spoke at Teachers College last year, a number of states have taken steps to join Louisiana in using data on student learning to identify effective and ineffective preparation programs, and are starting to use that data to make programmatic improvements. This is not about playing "got 'ya", it's about building systems that lead to continuous improvement.

Even more impressive, all 12 of the Race to the Top Winners—in fact, most states that applied to Race to the Top—put forward a strong plan for linking teacher preparation programs to the student outcomes of their graduates. And that is just a starting point.

Georgia, for example, is developing a set of program effectiveness measures for their teacher and leader preparation programs that will consider not only K-12 student growth data, but measure the transition from initial certification to full certification, three-year retention rates, and demonstration of content knowledge.

Delaware will be linking preparation programs to their graduates' evaluation ratings under new evaluation systems—which include both student learning and other important measures of teaching practice. And this information will be available to the public—to help prospective teachers pick the best training programs to enroll in, and to help principals and districts pick where they would like to recruit new teachers.

Delaware will also be sharing more detailed data with teacher prep programs on the evaluations of their graduates, enabling teacher educators to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their programs. Every state or district should be sharing this kind of detailed data with teacher preparation programs. This must become the norm—it helps everyone get better.

In 2012, Minnesota will become the first state to assess new teachers' real-life performance. Independent evaluators will grade videos of aspiring teachers' abilities to prepare a lesson, execute meaningful curriculum, and tailor instruction to a diverse group of students. Four other states—Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington—plan to implement the new teacher performance assessment within the next five years.

These states are showing that teacher preparation programs can and should be evaluated for their impact on student learning. But just as is the case with teacher evaluation, these states are also showing the importance of using multiple indicators to assess the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. It is critical that we look at multiple indicators, and not just one. This work is far too complex and important for that.

Some states are surveying beginning teachers, their principals, and district administrators about the quality of preparation of new teachers. Others, like Georgia, will be tracking if graduates land teaching positions and retain them.

To close, I would urge you to maintain your courage, your commitment, and your collaboration as you move forward to implement these recommendations.

I applaud the linking of student outcomes to the accreditation of teacher preparation programs. And as our state and district data systems become more robust, I look forward to the day when states and NCATE set a high bar for the impact of teacher preparation programs—not just a requirement to show any positive impact on student learning.

It's also absolutely true that the job of strengthening university-based preparation programs does not fall to colleges of education or to NCATE alone. Recruiting, preparing, and retaining the next generation of great teachers is a collective responsibility. But the need for collective action cannot become an excuse for inaction.

The report of this blue ribbon panel is a red letter day for accreditation of teacher education. You are helping lead the country where we need to go—and I thank you for being warriors in this fight to strengthen our nation and build a better future for our children.