Duncan announces ambitious federal plan to boost teacher preparation

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan speaking at NBC's Education Nation earlier this week. (Photo by Nick Pandolfo)

The Obama administration thinks states aren’t being aggressive enough in tracking how teachers are prepared and making education schools accountable for results. Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out an ambitious three-part plan this morning that the administration hopes will radically change how states measure the effectiveness of their teacher preparation programs, provide additional scholarship money for teachers in training and fund programs that aim to diversify the teaching workforce.

“Our shared goal is that every teacher should receive the high-quality preparation support they need so that every student can have the effective teacher they deserve,” Duncan said. “But unfortunately, we all know that the quality of teacher preparation programs today is very, very uneven. The current system that prepares our nation’s teachers offers no guarantees of quality for anyone.”

Duncan said the plan, called “Our Future, Our Teachers,” was inspired by research finding that nearly two-thirds of new teachers feel unprepared for the classroom and that only 15 percent of teachers in high poverty schools come from the top third of college graduates.

The administration wants measurement of a teacher training program’s effectiveness to move more toward outcome-based data like student performance on standardized tests, job placement and teacher retention rates. Duncan also said the plan would encourage states to ask education schools to get feedback on their programs from graduates and their principals.

Louisiana and Tennessee, both of which have state-wide data systems that track academic growth of a teacher’s  students by the preparation program they attended, were called out as potential models for the rest of the country.

“It’s the outcomes that matter,” Duncan said at Education Sector, a non-partisan think tank that hosted a panel discussion where Duncan made the announcement. “For decades teacher preparation programs have had virtually no feedback loop to identify where their programs prepare well for the classroom and where they need to improve.”

Under this new plan, the Department of Education will assist states in developing more comprehensive data systems, reward good programs and help them scale up, but also help states reshape or close low performing programs.

Labeling a teacher training program ineffective is something that rarely happens. In 2010, Duncan noted that only 37 of more than 1,500 teacher preparation programs across America were deemed low performing, with more than half of states claiming to have no poor programs.

Our Future, Our Teachers was widely welcomed as a huge step in the right direction by groups with different agendas. Dennis Van Roekel, president of National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, called it “a good day.” This sentiment was echoed by Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of Teach For America, an alternative certification program for teachers, and heads of education schools and national organizations like The National Center for Teacher Quality.

“It’s a nice change of tone,” Van Roekel said. “To talk about building up the profession instead of tearing it down.”

The new plan will give high achieving students up to $10,000 in the last year of their teacher preparation program.

The final element of the plan is a $40 million dollar proposal that would support teacher training programs in minority-serving institutions. It will fund Augustus Hawkins Centers of Excellence across the country with up to $2 million to diversify a teaching workforce that has become whiter and more female in recent years.