Evaluating teacher education: what we first need to know about teachers and their work

Creative Commons image by Flickr user Barbara K
Creative Commons image by Flickr user Barbara K

Evaluating teacher education: what we first need to know about teachers and their work, by Gerry LeTendre.

With tomorrow’s release of rankings of teacher education programs via US News and World Report, we now have an opportunity to look at what schools are ranked on, and what is missing.

The NCTQ teacher preparation project advocates for change in teacher education based on evidence.  On their website and in their reports, they repeatedly call for research that “has direct and practical implications for policy.”  The contradictions between this message, and their actual methods, has been discussed by Ed Fuller, Director, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis at Penn State – see his blog posting here.

NCTQ’s ranking scheme is the latest addition to a world-wide movement to monitor, measure and (hopefully) increase teacher quality and improve student achievement levels.  The last five years have seen an explosion in research examining teacher quality.  Econometric analyses and “value-added” studies have captured policy makers’ attention around the world, with a plethora of countries enacting policy after policy – see M. Akiba’s book, Teacher Reforms Around the World.

These ranking and assessment schemes offer little that can be used to promote high quality teaching.  The 18 standards promoted by NCTQ add little new knowledge, and seem oddly disconnected from the very empirical research they argue is so important.  The emphasis in their ratings is on subject matter preparation (reading and math for elementary), which, on the surface seems aligned with research.  But on closer examination, what they have really done is to see if colleges of education list courses or texts that indicate such preparation, they have not assessed how well students actually do at these tasks.  Like many well-intentioned accreditation and assessment systems before it, NCTQ has taken the easy route of surveying college curriculum, applying simple prioritization scheme, and ignoring the most important area of all: how well do teachers do?

Neither national governments nor NCTQ have paid attention to basic differences how the teacher’s job is constructed within local organizational environments.  Little or not attention has been given to the fact that teachers are already involved in multiple activities inside and outside the classroom that have pervasive and diffuse student outcomes in terms of academic achievement, socio-emotional development and civic engagement.

Which is to say, the hard work of truly assessing how well teachers perform still needs to be done.  Colleges of education could have a role in this, but the fact that most education schools typically conduct no evaluation of their graduates, has left the door open for NCTQ and other groups to criticize their efforts, although without offering any better solutions.

The states themselves, now, appear ready to make an impact in this area, by collecting and analyzing state-wide databases. Teacher evaluation systems are set to begin in Pennsylvania and New York this fall; they have already been set up in Tennessee and Florida.  These systems will easily allow analysts to look at teachers’ educational background (e.g. where they got their degree or certification) and use that data to assess it’s impact on students, net of whatever other factors are measured in the database. Such a strategy carries with it all the flaws and problems inherent in similar value-added measurement schemes (See Bruce Baker’s blog post.)

What then, should states, colleges of education, and/or advocacy groups like NCTQ be looking for?  The following are some of the most important features of teacher work that have impacts on quality of instruction. Three areas to consider are:


Ingersoll 2001 showed us that we face a teacher retention problem, not a teacher shortage.  Estimates of the numbers of teachers leaving the profession in the first three years, vary, but all seem quite high compared to similar professions like nursing.  Where do these teachers go?  Are the graduates of certain programs more likely to stick with teaching?  If so, is it because of where they end up (i.e. well-funded districts) or do they seem to have more commitment, better preparation or some combination of factors that lead them to stay in teaching.


Konstantopoulos and Sun 2012 showed that all students benefit from more qualified teachers, and lower-performing students appear to benefit more, at least in the fourth grade.  Borman and Kimball 2005 seem to agree. Sadly, the US does a very poor job at distributing qualified teachers equally compared to other nations (Akiba, LeTendre et al. 2007). Hanushek, Kain et al. 2002 suggest that increasing pay is not likely to prove effective in keeping good teachers in low-income schools.  We need to seek what qualities or factors encourage teachers who chose to work with learners who struggle, or who opt to work in communities in poverty.


Pay, it seems, matters less than student characteristics and the quality of the support teachers receive. Districts need to hire good teachers but also to keep them (Ballou 1996; Boyd, Grossman et al. 2010).  The whole question of ranking teacher education, and the study of teacher preparation effects (Gimbert, Bol et al. 2007; Boyd, Grossman et al. 2009), ignores the fact that teachers are rarely school leaders, and begs the question of how we should measure the preparation of principals, superintendents, curriculum directors and others.  For these critical roles, like for teacher education, the study of the impact of preparation on performance remains a wide-open field. Ranking colleges of education will have little effect – changing principal education in ways that accentuate a focus on learning, curricular analysis and classroom instruction offer significant promise.

References and further reading

Baker, D. & LeTendre, G. (2005).  National differences, global similarities: World culture and the future of schooling.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Popkewitz, T. and G. Steiner-Khamsi, Eds. (2004). The Global Politics Of Educational Borrowing And Lending. New York, Teachers College Press.

Stigler, J. and J. Hiebert (1999). The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom.  New York: Free Press.

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing Teachers, Changing Times.  New York: Teachers College Press.

See: Ingersoll, R. M., Smith, Thomas M. (2003). “The Wrong Solution to Teacher Shortage.” Educational Leadership 60(8): 30-33.

LeTendre, G. (2002) Cross-national Studies and the Analysis of Comparative Qualitative Research.  In G. Steiner-Khamsi, J. Schwille & J. Torney-Purta (eds.) The IEA Civic Education Study Amsterdam: JAI Elsevier, pp. 239-277.

Tatto, M. (2007). International Comparisons and the Global Reform of Teaching. Reforming Teaching Globally. M. Tatto. Cambridge, Symposium Books: 7-19.

For economic analysis of teacher quality effects see:

Eide, Eric. (2004). “The Teacher Labour Market and Teacher Quality.”  Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 20, 2: 230-244.

Rivkin, S., E. Hanushek, et al. (2005). “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement.” Econometrica 73(2): 417-458.

Akiba, M. (2013). Teacher Reforms around the World: Implementation and Outcome. London, Emerald.

Akiba, M., G. LeTendre, et al. (2007). “Teacher Quality, Opportunity Gap, and National Achievement in 46 Countries.” Educational Researcher 36(7): 369-387.

Ballou, D. (1996). “Do Public Schools Hire the Best Applicants?” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 111(1): 97-133.

Borman, G. and S. Kimball (2005). “Teacher Quality and Educational Equality: Do Teachers with Higher Standards-Based Evaluation Ratings Close Student Achievement Gaps?” The Elementary School Journal 106(1): 3-21.

Boyd, D., P. Grossman, et al. (2010). “The Influence of School Administrators on Teacher Retention Decisions.” American Educational Research Journal 48(2): 303-333.

Boyd, D., P. Grossman, et al. (2009). “Teacher Preparation and Student Achievement.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 31(4): 416-440.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The Flat World and Education. New York, Teachers College Press.

Gimbert, B., L. Bol, et al. (2007). “The Influence of Teacher Preparation on Student Achievement and the Application of National Standards by Teachers of

Mathematics in Urban Secondary Schools.” Education and Urban Society 40(1): 91-117.

Hanushek, E., J. Kain, et al. (2002). “Why Public Schools Lose Teachers.” The Journal of Human Resources 39(2): 326-354.

Ingersoll, R. (2001). “Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis.” American Educational Research Journal 38(3): 499-534.

Konstantopoulos, S. and M. Sun (2012). “Is the Persistence of Teacher Effects in Early Grades Larger for Lower-Performing Students?” American Journal of Education 118(3): 309-339.




Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *