A Deep Dive Into Alternative Teacher Prep

Policy Brief

September 17, 2019

A Deep Dive Into Alternative Teacher Prep

New Series will Examine Best Practices, Lessons for the Future

For almost half a century, efforts to improve teacher preparation in the United States have succumbed to a repetitive and unproductive cycle of failed reforms.

First, a report is issued identifying serious shortcomings in the way teachers are recruited, trained, and inducted. Second, college presidents, education school deans and other leaders pledge to make the changes necessary to remediate those shortcomings. Third, the fundamental, game-changing reforms that those well-intended leaders from the field of education promised face significant pushback and resistance from those tasked with carrying them out. Each effort ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, as teacher-training programs maintain the same feckless and outdated policies.

In this era of international benchmarks and higher expectations, it is just as unfair to throw teachers into a classroom when we know they have been poorly prepared as it is to place students with them—students whose futures hinge on the outcome of that classroom instruction.

The good news is that the leading experts from within and outside of the field of education referred to above have been fairly consistent over the past half a century in concluding that U.S. teacher training programs:

  • Have lower admission standards and a lower bar for graduation than nearly every other university-based professional program requiring a B.A. or post-graduate degree;
  • Lack rigorous and challenging coursework on teacher subject matter knowledge;
  • Use curricula that emphasize theory over practice;
  • Seldom require clinical training and experience aimed at the practice of teaching and classroom management;
  • Fail to adequately assess and measure the effectiveness of their graduates; and
  • Don’t provide supports for teachers in their first few years of teaching.

Although most states over the past decade have tried, with mixed success, to more objectively and rigorously evaluate teachers once they are in the classroom, only a handful have taken steps to improve the way teachers are prepared. After undergoing training that is unchallenging and disconnected from the reality most teachers face in the classroom, it is no wonder there is significant blowback when, suddenly, teachers are told that that they will be rated according to their performance.

Hope for the Future 

There is however, hope for change. Over the past several years, a vanguard of innovators has broken the cycle of big plans crushed by institutionalized intransigence. These trailblazers, operating largely outside of the traditional system, have created alternative teacher preparation programs that do many of things that experts agree all teacher preparation programs should do and teachers say they wish their training programs had done.

Because most of these innovative programs train a relatively small number of teachers, the challenge for policymakers is how to expand the ones with a strong evidence base of effectiveness and to replicate the components of those that show the greatest promise so that lessons learned can benefit a greater number of prospective teachers and, ultimately, K-12 students.

This series will review several of these leading programs and discuss whether and how they can be models and foundations for long-term systemic change.

Analyses will Include: