Better Data, Better Teacher Education, Better Learning Outcomes

After months of anticipation, the U.S. Department of Education has now released its draft regulations governing teacher education. For decades now, we have recognized how our approach to teacher preparation hasn’t kept up with the challenges and realities of the modern day classroom. In many teachers colleges, teacher prep programs are as they were a decade ago. Or 50 years ago. Or even a century ago.

We know, however, that what a teacher needs to know and is expected to do has changed dramatically over the years. So as some teachers colleges resisted adapting to current demands, programs like Relay School of Education and Urban Teacher Center have filled the gaps. Elsewhere, states have turned to programs like those offered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to help partner with universities to spark the sort of innovation and new thinking needed to prepare the next generation of classroom educators.

Better data enables better teaching

While the new federal teacher education regulations don’t solve all ails in the teacher preparation arena, they are a significant step forward to improve the process. These regulations offer a clear national vision for better preparing educators. And they look to the exemplars developed by programs like Relay and Woodrow Wilson to help us get there.

How? For too long, the field has wanted to define excellent teaching as something that we just feel. It was a spark that was felt in a classroom, a bond that was seen between student and teacher. While this may be part of it, such qualitative measures are not the only components into effective teaching. Data-driven measures play an important measure as well.

Through these priorities, and through a stronger commitment to data-driven education, we can ensure generations of excellent teachers, particularly for our high-need schools.

In these draft regulations, we see a true embrace of data in the teacher preparation process. Data such as employment metrics that look at how long a teacher remains in the classroom, recognizing that our most effective teacher education programs are those that ensure good teachers remain in the classroom for more than five years. Data such surveys that look at educators new to the classroom see their preparation once they become the teacher of record. Data such as employer surveys that can help local teachers colleges better understand if their graduates are prepared for the rigors of the classrooms they are now leading.

And yes, data such as student performance data. These new regulations recognize that student learning outcomes are an important part of determining whether a teacher is prepared for the classroom. Yes, there are many factors that go into student performance beyond what the educator is bringing to the classroom. But there is also no denying that learning is a key component of effective teaching. And there is no ignoring that excellent teachers, those prepared for the rigors of today’s classroom, are the ones who get the most out of their students.

In laying out these road markers for the path to teacher ed improvement, the U.S. Department of Education also makes one thing crystal clear. With an emphasis on data, our states must do a far better job in developing and utilizing data systems. This includes data systems that better analyze student learning AND gets data in real time to educators so they can adjust classroom instruction. And it means data systems that can tie P-12 and higher education together so we can see how teacher preparation efforts ultimately tie to student learning outcomes.

What’s next?

Let there be no mistake, these teacher education regulations are but a first step in transforming teacher preparation to meet the needs and demands of the 21st century classroom. Through these priorities, and through a stronger commitment to data-driven education, we can ensure generations of excellent teachers, particularly for our high-need schools. By learning from programs such as Relay, UTC, and Woodrow Wilson, we can witness how many of these regulations look in real programs with real prospective educators. And by acknowledging the work ahead of us, we can take the steps necessary to repair a teacher education system in a way that strengthens our universities, schools, communities, and nation.

Patrick Riccards is the author of the nationally recognized Eduflack blog. He is also a director at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. You can find him on Twitter at @eduflack.