Last year, we at Fordham wrote quite a bit about teacher policy. We talked about changes needed in teacher preparation, teacher licensure, and teacher evaluation. We also spilled some ink on innovations in teacher credentialing, teacher roles, teacher professional development, and other potential changes to teacher evaluations. By the early days of 2016, we realized that a year had passed, and—despite some debate—nothing had actually changed. Teacher policy in Ohio was pretty much ignored. The advent of a new federal education law promises to shake things up, and it could be the jolt of energy that Ohio teacher policy needs. But what should legislators and administrators know about teacher policy before they start crafting programs and reforms in the wake of ESSA? Let’s take a look.
When lawmakers in Ohio discussed tackling deregulation last year, one of the policies they proposed was to deregulate state mandates regarding teacher licensure for eligible high-performing districts. The move generated some controversy, which is unsurprising, considering that licensure is an area of teacher policy that’s rife with conflicting research. However, that hasn’t stopped Ohio from getting middling grades from national organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for its failure to require prospective elementary, secondary science, secondary social studies, and special education teachers to pass rigorous content tests in all the subjects they will teach prior to licensure.
Sixty-six percent of Ohio teachers are evaluated on the student growth component of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) using either Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) or shared attribution. SLOs are inconsistent, often fail to differentiate teacher performance, and take up a lot of time; shared attribution evaluates teachers based on test scores in subjects they don’t teach. Neither of these is a high-quality measure, meaning that OTES isn’t a fair way to evaluate most teachers. Add to this the fact that multiple observers, outside observers, and unannounced observations aren’t required—and a change in law during summer 2014 that permits less frequent observations for teachers who receive the two highest ratings—and the entire system seems pretty much the opposite of unbiased and consistent.
Teacher roles and ongoing development
A lot is shifting in education: federal law, the demographics of American schools, the types of organizations that schools rely on for services. It makes sense that the role of teachers would change too. While some have visions of classes run by robots, most changes will probably be a little less dramatic. The opportunity to utilize “hybrid” teachers is ripe, and the future of teacher professional learning—and, as a result, student achievement—will hinge on how we shape teacher roles moving forward. The way we support and empower teachers matters too. There’s a national push to elevate the teaching profession. Ohio should get on board by creating incentives and opportunities for districts to revolutionize the way they use and develop their teaching staffs.
Teacher preparation programs: Selection and preparation
Ohio’s bar for admission into education schools is still low, mostly because Ohio law doesn't have a bar at all. Screening processes like high selection standards, rigorous entrance and exit exams, or interviews aren’t required in the Buckeye State. There are, of course, some education schools that have requirements teacher candidates must meet, but many of these requirements stop and start at minimum GPAs (some of which are arguably too low).
Beyond candidate selection is candidate training, and Ohio needs some serious work there as well. In years past, NCTQ has released reports demonstrating that many education schools, including those in Ohio, need to work on improving program design and developing more rigorous training. Another recent report indicates that the textbooks teacher candidates use aren't up to snuff. Research on Teach For America (TFA) indicates that non-traditionally trained teachers are typically just as effective at promoting academic achievement as other teachers. Overall, it would seem as though traditional teacher preparation programs aren’t doing a good enough job of selecting and preparing potential teachers.
Teacher preparation programs: Accountability
The Buckeye State is perhaps the chief example of how difficult it’s been to measure the outputs of teacher preparation programs. The Ohio Department of Higher Education offers yearly performance reports that share data on teacher preparation programs. This data includes licensure test scores, OTES results, value-added data, survey results, and other information. While the performance reports are a good example of public transparency and a step in the right direction, they offer limited usefulness because the underlying data is flawed. Much of it falls short of actually differentiating teachers or the preparation programs that trained them. I’ve already outlined why shared attribution, SLOs, and evaluations in general don’t effectively differentiate teachers. But using value added is just as problematic: The more experience teachers have, the more their instruction may be influenced by learning that occurred after their undergraduate education.
Licensure tests are a similarly flawed measure because some teachers in Ohio aren’t required to take rigorous content exams for licensure. The information about candidates’ field and clinical experience measures the minimum and maximum number of field hours, the average number of weeks required of full-time teaching, and the percentage of candidates who “satisfactorily completed” student teaching—but there is no explanation of what “satisfactory” means (it’s apparently decided by the institution) or how well candidates performed during their field hours and student teaching. In short, even with considerable output data, Ohio is no closer to determining the effectiveness of its teacher preparation programs (or the state’s teachers).
Given the complexity of these areas—and the importance of ensuring that all kids have access to capable teachers—what’s an Ohio policy maker to do now that ESSA has returned educational power to the states? Stay tuned for out-of-the-box ideas that you’ll either love or hate.