Five Ideas to Improve Teacher Quality

From the state-created plans to get better teachers in struggling schools

Arkansas’ teacher equity plan is laid out in this complex chart, which shows the root causes and potential routes to improve access to quality teachers. Click here to enlarge.

Low-performing schools struggle to attract and retain good teachers. This June, in an effort to give more students access to excellent teachers, the United States Department of Education required states to submit “educator equity plans,” meant to identify the root causes of why poor and minority kids receive more inexperienced teachers and fix the problem. Earlier this month, plans from 16 states were approved and while these plans vary in specifics, many of the states focused on reforming teacher preparation as the key first step to improve quality.

Here are five reforms that states have proposed:

1. Determine the success of training programs: The Indiana Department of Education will survey new teachers and the principals that oversee those teachers to evaluate the effectiveness of Indiana’s educator preparation programs. Massachusetts will create public reports that link data from teacher training programs to student growth and other outcomes for their graduates. Pennsylvania will track teachers who have been dismissed to determine if they are coming from a specific preparation program.

2. A “Grow Your Own” System: Arkansas, Indiana, and Oklahoma have each proposed expanding programs that encourage high-performing high school students to consider teaching as a career, with some states attempting to also increase diversity in the teaching force. In Arkansas, the state will expand the Arkansas Teacher Cadet program from eight high schools to 20 high schools, half of which are high-poverty and high-minority schools. Indiana plans to create resources that will improve “cadet teaching” programs in its high schools, and Oklahoma plans to expand its Teach Oklahoma program to more high-poverty and high-minority high schools to introduce juniors and seniors to teaching.

3. Improve faculty knowledge at teacher prep programs: Kentucky will have regional coaches team up with teacher prep programs to teach faculty members about new standards and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

4. Change teacher prep courses and student teaching: Maine will meet with leaders of its teacher preparation programs to evaluate course requirements and ensure that new teachers have student teaching experiences in “high-poverty and isolated-small schools and high-risk school settings.” In its plan, state officials said that many teachers “are not adequately prepared” for the teaching demands of these types of schools. Missouri will also look for ways to incorporate a larger focus on urban education and working with diverse students into its teacher preparation programs and will attempt to expand the field experiences that candidates have before entering the classroom.

5. Make teacher candidates perform before they enter classroom: Missouri will create a performance assessment to make sure aspiring teachers have “pedagogy skills.” At least a dozen states require teachers to pass a state-approved performance exam before they receive a credential, and some teacher preparation programs in more than 20 other states have chosen to participate in an assessment.

Related: Teacher colleges struggle to blend technology into teacher training

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about teacher training.

Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University and an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a recipient of the 2012 Fred M. Hechinger Journalism Education Award. Prior to attending Columbia, she taught special education in Charlotte, N.C. and trained first-year teachers in the Mississippi Delta.