An ed school dean's thoughts on use of teacher effectiveness data to evaluate teacher prep

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In his recent 2012 State of Education address, Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett reaffirmed his state's intention to use data on the impact of novice teachers on student learning to evaluate teacher preparation programs.

Despite the fact that some teacher educator leaders have raised serious objections to the use of such data for teacher preparation program accountability, the dean of Indiana University's School of Education, Gerardo Gonzalez, applauded Bennett's move. In fact, Gonzalez has demonstrated his strong interest in the use of such data by actively seeking it from the state this past year, in advance of the state initiative.  Dr. Gonzalez generously consented to tell us more about his somewhat iconoclastic position, which is based on the conviction that teacher educator expertise is essential to achieving the best design of the "value-added models" (VAMs) within which teacher effectiveness data is statistically evaluated:

What are your thoughts on using value-added data analysis to hold teacher preparation programs accountable?

I believe that any teacher education accountability process that incorporates VAMs into its evaluation schemes must confront difficult questions of reliability and validity, which is why I feel strongly that such models must be developed in close consultation with stakeholders. 

Some have expressed concern that a teacher preparation accountability system based on a VAM will not be able to disentangle the effect of choosing good candidates from the impact of the training these programs provide. What do you think?

The effects of selectivity on program outcomes could lead someone to suggest that a highly selective program adds very little value and that whatever performance differences occur among graduates as compared to those from other programs are really a function of having more capable students. However, the fact is that you cannot separate the effects of a program from the abilities and interactions of program participants -- they are integrally interconnected. Any attempt to statistically separate the quality of the participants from program effects through the use of VAM models must pay very close attention to the limitations of such models.

Do you support Secretary Bennett's plan to award letter grades to teacher preparation programs? What do you think the impact of this new policy will be?

I am not in favor of any policy that is developed without close consultation with primary stakeholders. A letter grade system of accountability for schools of education seems like an oversimplification of a very complex evaluation problem. Any system of accountability that neglects the science behind VAM models and does not incorporate stakeholder input is likely to be fundamentally flawed. To my knowledge, the Indiana Department of Education has not yet engaged higher education stakeholders in a meaningful discussion about evaluating teacher preparation programs in the state.

When Indiana committed to the development of a teacher education evaluation system in its NCLB waiver application, it promised to collaborate with schools of education and universities. All of us in higher education expect and welcome accountability and are eager to participate in that conversation.

Dr. Geraldo Gonzalez, as interviewed by
Graham Drake