While no one would contest the fact that teachers inherently want to do a good job, many education professionals would argue that we could do a much better job to prepare new teachers for their role. In an effort to make good teachers great, a growing number of states are trying to transform the programs meant to prepare teachers for the classroom.
One such state is Delaware. In June 2013, Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill requiring his state’s teacher preparation programs to include at least 10 weeks of full-time student teaching. The bill also requires preparation programs to collect and report data on the performance and effectiveness of their graduates.
In the last two years, Connecticut, Indiana, Colorado Ohio and North Carolina have approved similar measures aimed at improving teacher preparation. Massachusetts and Minnesota have also had long reputations for making sure teachers are well-prepared to teach.
According to many researchers, teacher quality is the single most important factor inside a school in student achievement. “In Delaware, our new law raises the bar for admissions to teacher preparation programs and improves training through high-quality student teaching experiences and specific math and literacy instruction for prospective elementary school teachers,” said Markell, a Democrat.
States have long possessed powerful tools to ensure that teachers are adequately trained: They are responsible for licensing teachers, and they must approve any teacher preparation program that operates within their borders. Many also have the power to decide admission standards and regulate program requirements for schools of teacher education.
But until recently, most states did not leverage those tools consistently to maximize teacher quality. Many are starting to do so now, in part because students are being held to higher standards, according to Janice Poda, who directs the Education Workforce initiative for the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“Once we made that decision to raise the bar for what we expected students to be able to know and do, that raised the bar for what teachers would be able to do,” Poda said, referring to the Common Core standards that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The standards are intended to ensure that students graduate from high school ready for college or to enter the workforce.
States interested in evaluating the effectiveness of teachers graduating from teacher education programs are also gaining new tools unavailable to previous generations, in the form of data showing how much, for example, a particular school’s graduates are able to increase student achievement. Improving the quality of beginning teachers is also crucial now because of the large number of first-year teachers entering the workforce: In 1987-88, the nation had about 65,000 first-year teachers; by 2007-08, the number had reached over 200,000, according to a University of Pennsylvania study.