Spotlight on Teacher Prep Programs

Category: Academics

The Tennessee State Capitol Building at sunset.

Teacher preparation programs took center stage this week as both House Education Committees heard presentations on the topic coordinated by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and the State Board of Education.

The presentation largely focused on the results of a new state report card aimed at providing more accountability for higher education teacher preparation programs.

“When I see this data, we think we can do much better than this, and in fact we must do much better than this,” Mike Krause, the THEC Executive Director, said.

The report card covers factors such as the percentage of completers with an ACT score of 21 or higher, percentage of racially and ethnically diverse completers, beyond year one retention rate, percentage of completers with a Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (teacher evaluation) score of three or higher, among others, and contends that 50 percent of Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs are in the lowest two performance categories.  One trend of concern to THEC is the lack of diversity among Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs, which are primarily composed of white females.  Several members raised questions as to how THEC and the State Board of Education are defining diversity.

“We are having conversations with our programs about whether we need to expand our measure of diversity to include things like first generation graduates or other poverty measures. Right now, it really is a racial diversity measure on the report card,” Dr. Sara Morrison, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said.

THEC highlighted the need to increase the presence of male teachers and other races in state classrooms.  According to Krause, research shows students perform better when there is diversity in the classroom and perform better when entering the workforce.

Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) asked how Tennessee colleges were responding to the data, which Krause characterized as “overwhelmingly positive.”  Krause pointed to UT Martin as an example.  Chancellor Keith Carver presented to members on how UT Martin has identified and implemented needed changes in its program in response to the state report card and subsequent meetings with THEC and the State Board of Education.   The programs at UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga were also referenced in the hearing as examples of programs with positive efforts underway.

Several members asked questions regarding a “teacher warranty program,” and whether such an idea would be feasible in Tennessee.  This is the second time this session a mention has been made in a legislative committee regarding a warranty as it relates to teacher preparation programs.  While legislation has not yet been filed to this end, it is likely.

Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City) voiced frustration that change is not happening fast enough in Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs. He urged greater accountability for programs.

“We seem to be constantly hearing ‘change is coming, there’s a new day awakening,’ but we come back and see [data] like that. I’m not sure how anybody could be optimistic,” Matlock said.

Teacher preparation is shaping up to be a major topic of legislative interest this session.   We will continue to update advocates as the issue progresses.