While 36 states plus the District of Columbia have moved to adopt the common core state standards, to fundamentally improve teacher and leader effectiveness, the federal government will need to provide support for their implementation. Setting standards is only the first step in an improvement process; states must implement assessments that measure whether students are meeting the standards, develop or acquire curricular materials aligned to the standards, and, most importantly, must prepare teachers to teach to the new standards. The federal government can have an important role in improving teacher education by leveraging resources and creating incentives to enable states to develop systems consistent with expectations for student learning.
Traditional licensure exams have come under attack for their lack of authenticity and ability to measure whether teachers will be effective in the classroom. On the other hand, studies show that that rigorous, validated, standards-based performance measures, such as those used by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, can be a powerful tool for capturing how teaching is enacted in a complex context and for providing feedback for continuous improvement. These measures use multiple elements such as direct observations and videotapes, analyses of student work, and measures of student learning. They can serve a number of policy purposes—to strengthen the quality of preparation and credentialing programs, induction systems, professional learning and licensure, and compensation and advancement. The federal government could support the development of robust teacher performance assessments that serve as a key component of evaluation systems along with the use of growth measures for student achievement.
Professional learning and continuing education should focus—not solely on the accumulation of course credits—but on developing skilled practice by providing teachers with more coherence in the feedback and supervision they receive. In addition, support and training should address the urgent need to conceptualize teaching differently, shape differentiated roles for teachers and school leaders, and create novel team-based approaches to organizing learning environments. Educator development policies that ignore using a fuller, fairer sense of teachers’ performance will, in effect, serve to undermine teaching as a profession.
One of the most important ways that the federal government can support the improvement of teacher preparation is by investing in research in effective practice. A recent report by the National Research Council found that the state of research on teacher preparation is woefully inadequate; the study could not find answers to some of the most basic questions about a critical component of the U.S. education system. By placing a priority on research on teacher preparation, and disseminating results widely, the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences can build the knowledge base about effective practices and drive improvements.
To learn more about the misalignment of current policies that shape teacher development in the United States and ways to reframe human capital systems to deliver on the promise of next-generation learning, check out a Call for Action: Transforming Teaching and Learning to Prepare High School Students for College and Careers.