Colleges of education have been around this country for more than a century and have been responsible for producing the majority of public school educators. But in recent decades pundits have started to complain that their value to the country is a little, well, questionable.

Back in 2010 Education Secretary Arnie Duncan grumbled that “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.”

That’s a little hard to rigorously evaluate, but certainly no one’s ever been able to demonstrate that attending a graduate education school makes a teacher any better or that teachers trained as undergraduates in education schools are more effective than those who weren’t.

Now it looks like the U.S. Department of Education is going to try to do something to fix the situation, or at least evaluate the programs a little more seriously. According to an article in the New York Times:

The federal Department of Education announced preliminary rules on Tuesday requiring states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that would track a range of measures, including the job placement and retention rates of graduates and the academic performance of their students.

These rating systems, if this goes forward, will likely eventually be used to determine access to federal money.

It makes a lot of sense to evaluate schools on job placement and retention (other types of schools do this routinely, after all) but the most controversial part of this proposal has to do with a rating of teacher “effectiveness.”

The most contested of the rules is one calling for teacher training programs to track the performance of students taught by their graduates. Although the rules do not require tests, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed with the Department of Education to develop teacher performance ratings that include test scores.

This again, makes sense in theory. The problem is that current measures of teacher effectiveness are mostly pretty useless.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer