Did you know research has shown that teacher quality is the most important factor in the academic achievement of students?  Or that in 2010, the CT State Department of Education identified an “urgent need” for effective school leaders in the state?  Given the importance of teacher and school leader effectiveness, we think it’s time to explore the programs that prepare Connecticut’s educators.And we’re not alone. On Monday, Commissioner Pryor and Governor Malloy visited one of Connecticut’s largest teacher preparation programs to discuss the importance of teacher preparation programs in improving the quality of teachers in Connecticut.

So just how well do Connecticut’s preparation programs actually prepare their graduates for the important tasks that lie ahead?

The Situation in Teacher Preparation Programs

In 2011, amongst CT’s fifteen teacher preparation programs, the mandatory test for teacher candidates who want to teach Grades K-6 showed first-time pass rates that ranged from 62.2% to 93.1%.  These rates not only indicate that a number of graduates of teacher preparation programs are not prepared to teach reading, but also signify substantial variation in program quality.  One way to reduce the variation amongst preparation programs is to require rigorous coursework that provides all teacher candidates with the knowledge and skills needed to meet the needs of their future students.  After all, we cannot expect students to read proficiently if we don’t train their teachers to teach reading!

Well, you might think, at least teacher preparation programs give all teacher candidates lots of field experience.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Requirements for field experience in these programs also vary widely statewide.  The result?  We’re expecting new teachers to effectively manage classrooms and teach, without giving them hands-on teaching experiences as part of their training!  In contrast, cities like Boston and Chicago require intensive field experience as a component of teacher preparation programs, and their graduates have demonstrated greater preparedness and longevity in urban classrooms.  It’s time for us to learn from these programs and do the same.

The Situation in School Leader Preparation Programs

School leader preparation programs also vary widely in terms of curriculum and the manner in which they prepare their graduates. In 2011, the Connecticut Administrator Test’s first-time pass rates among candidates from Connecticut’s seven administrator preparation programs ranged form 71% to 100%. The variation in the quality of administrator preparation programs is substantial, both in content knowledge and in requirements for field experiences.  The outcome of this variation is that candidates are not consistently trained to lead in the districts and schools into which they will be hired, or to address the substantial changes they will confront as school leaders.

In other words, both teacher and school leader preparation programs suffer from a lack of standard coursework and a lack of requirements for field experiences in diverse classroom, and school, settings.

But don’t be discouraged!  Our State Board of Education (SBE) has the authority to step in and solve the problem.  The SBE has the responsibility of approving preparation programs for Connecticut’s educators. That means it calls the shots in terms of statewide requirements for preparation programs – such as rigorous coursework and job-embedded field experience.

Taking it a step further, we think the SBE should also build a transparent system of reporting – based on the effectiveness of the graduates of preparation programs – with which to monitor which programs produce the most effective educators, which programs should be expanded, and which should be closed.  Currently, preparation programs do not receive feedback on how their graduates perform.  This type of system would provide an important way to inform aspiring educators about the most effective programs, and teacher preparation programs themselves have indicated they would like to see this data collected!  Reporting on preparation programs’ effectiveness is a sure-fire way to find out which programs we can depend upon to provide Connecticut with the best educators possible.