Breaking the Cycle of Mediocrity

Policy Brief

March 11, 2020

See the full report here

Compared to other university departments and to teacher preparation programs in higher-achieving countries, U.S. teacher-training programs are generally found to have lower admission standards; easier grading of teacher candidates’ work; and a lower bar for graduation and licensure. Other shortcomings include:

  • Curricula that emphasize theory over practice,
  • Weak coursework building subject matter knowledge, 
  • Lack of quality clinical training and experience regarding both pedagogy and classroom management,
  • Failure to adequately assess graduates and measure their effectiveness, and 
  • A lack of supports for teachers in their first few years of teaching.

Yet, this is far from a new problem. Opportunities to improve teacher recruitment and preparation have been missed in the past. In fact, efforts to improve teacher preparation in the U.S. proceed through a recurring, closed-loop cycle. First, a report is issued identifying serious shortcomings in the way teachers are recruited, trained, and inducted. Second, college presidents and education school deans pledge to make the necessary changes called for in those reports. Third, little if anything actually happens. 

The good news is that over the past several years some innovators have begun to break the cycle. These trailblazers, operating largely outside of the traditional, university-based 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. These approaches should be both models of innovation for others and potential candidates for increased investment so that they can be scaled up and reach more prospective teachers. 

A new incentive structure—one that encourages new, innovative programs—is possible through the creation of an alternative accreditor that is not beholden to traditional teacher preparation programs. By reducing the barriers to entry and expansion, a new accreditor could allow promising innovative teacher preparation programs to disrupt the current system of teacher preparation that is content with mediocrity. 

This report reviews several of these leading programs and discusses whether and how they can be models and foundations for long-term systemic change.