March 16, 2016

Marilyn Cochran-Smith, (617) 552-4591,
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Holding Teacher Education Accountable

A new policy brief investigates four major national initiatives intended to improve teacher quality

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Mar. 16, 2016) — The importance of teacher preparation in the U.S. has become increasingly publicized in recent years. A fierce polemic has surfaced regarding the methods and reasoning behind improving teacher education. A new policy brief, released today, underscores the importance of using research evidence to drive teacher education policy.

This new policy brief, Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence, written by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and a team of researchers from Boston College, explores four major national initiatives intended to improve teacher quality by "holding teacher education accountable" for arrangements and outcomes. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produced the brief with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable scrutinizes four initiatives against the research evidence for each. The initiatives are:

  1. State and institutional reporting requirements under the Higher Education Act (HEA);
  2. Standards and procedures of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP);
  3. Teacher prep reviews performed by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ); and
  4. Uniform teacher performance measured by edTPA (developed by Stanford University's Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE).

The policy brief highlights the four different accountability mechanisms and theories of changes, as well as the different governance issues represented by the range of institutions, agencies, governmental offices, professional associations, and private advocacy organizations involved in teacher education reform. One commonality found across the reforms is the assumption that accountability will improve teacher preparation in the U.S.

For each initiative, the brief asks two important questions: (1) What claims do proponents of the initiative make about how it will improve teacher preparation and thus help solve the teacher quality problem in the U.S.?; and (2) What evidence supports these claims?

Regarding evidence, three of the four initiatives (HEA regulations, CAEP accreditation, and NCTQ's reviews) revealed thin evidence to support the claims made.  More evidence was found to support the fourth initiative (edTPA), but widespread implementation and professional acceptance may be challenging to accomplish.

Cochran-Smith and her team also find equity issues associated with the initiatives, which assume that access to good teachers is the major solution to equity problems. The researchers call attention to the lack of attention paid to larger, long-standing, and systemic societal inequities. They note that variation among different teachers accounts for a relatively limited portion of the overall variance in student achievement.

Based on their review of the claims and available evidence, the authors state: "we conclude that for the most part, they [the initiatives] are based on both thin evidence and a thin notion of equity that does not adequately account for the complex and long-standing out-of-school factors that produce and reproduce educational inequality."

Find the brief on the Great Lakes Center website:

The brief can also be found on the NEPC website:

Dr. Marilyn Cochran-Smith is the Cawthorne Professor of Teacher Education for Urban Schools and Director of the Doctoral Program in Curriculum and Instruction at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College. She is widely known for her work on teacher education, practice and policy, and for her commitment to teacher education for social justice.

Also contributing to the brief were: Rebecca Stern, Juan Gabriel Sánchez, Andrew Miller, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe, M. Beatriz Fernández, Wen-Chia Chang, Molly Cummings Carney, Stephani Burton, and Megina Baker

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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