Of late, there's been a lot of chatter among teacher educators objecting to language in ESSA for "teacher preparation academies," relatively regulation-free routes into teaching. From the perspective of much-maligned traditional teacher prep providers, it's the feds once again showing an unfair preference for alternative providers. The action stings all the more because they see academies as an unproven model, an objection with some merit in our eyes.
So what gives?
In return for escaping from most regulatory requirements (such as the coursework that must be taught), teacher prep academies would be held accountable for "the performance of their graduates," which has yet to be defined. In effect, this trade-off is similar to the deals offered to K-12 charter schools—hence teacher educators' christening of academies as "charterized" teacher prep.
We have two questions: is this trade-off realistic (i.e., practical), and is it fair?
Thinking of lessons to be learned from the early days of the charter movement, there was a time, long before No Child Left Behind, when schools offered up student performance results based on their own definitions of accountability. The data weren't always pretty and, in fact, were sometimes nearly meaningless. It was only after data were standardized and disaggregated that any degree of accountability was achieved and useful insights began to emerge about promising models for school reform.
Data available on K-12 schools are light years ahead of data on ed schools. In a recent report, Chaos to Coherence, Deans for Impact (a group of reform-minded ed school deans) examined seven different data categories—things like completer surveys, employer surveys, classroom observations, student achievement, and teacher evaluation of graduates—and documented the disappointing degree to which even the most progressive programs capture such data.
So the rub is that ESSA essentially allows states to hold academies accountable in the midst of a virtual data desert. Fewer than half of states have yet to define a "teacher of record" or require verification of class rosters—both fundamentals to hold academies accountable for the performance of their graduates.
Further, long overdue regs on federal requirements for state data systems aren't imminent: nearly four years into a rulemaking process that would help to close the black hole of accountability for teacher prep programs, there is no clear timeline for finalizing them.
To answer our second question, proponents of these new academies claim that with the right incentives and rewards, providers will be highly motivated to fill the current data vacuum. But the current academies don't strike us as poster children for transparency. For example, all that's publicly available from Relay—perhaps the granddaddy of the academy movement—is summary data on self-selected metrics. While Relay can be applauded for posting this data, it is inadequate as a model for what should be collected and made available as a condition for breaking free of state regulation.
Teacher preparation academies present a shiny new reason for collecting objective teacher performance data. It's ironic then that the field of teacher education has consistently put up notorious resistance to such data, given that it could be the ticket for releasing them from the very regulations they find so burdensome.