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Regarding the Tennessee Teaching Quality Initiative
August 15, 2007

The letter below refers to the following report: http://www.state.tn.us/sbe/Aug07/IIB_TQI.pdf

Dear ECF Board Members,

In my estimation, the attached report illustrates the need for a wholly independent external review of teacher education in Tennessee.  It is the product of 18 months work by a task force that includes a veritable who's who of Tennessee educators and officials.  In my reading, it offers no fresh thinking about how teachers might be helped to become more effective or demonstrates any inclination to question the heart of the process—the teacher education curriculum.    

Colleagues who have read it have a similar impression.  Teaching quality is mentioned as a concern, but there is no effort to analyze past failures that have led to the need for the present report.  There are action steps but no benchmarks or objective mechanism to track progress towards specific measurable results.  The situation is characterized as a crisis but there is no suggestion of who or what might have failed--despite the fact that the report is authored by a task force representing teacher-education's key officials and stakeholders.   

Summary of Concerns 

1.  Tennessee is virtually the only state with a database that provides a credible objective measure of the achievement gains produced by individual teachers--the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.  Such data would enable schools of education to gauge the effectiveness of their graduates.  Lloyd Davis and John Ray conducted a pilot study in 2002 that showed little difference in the quality of graduates among 4 TN schools of education.  Similar studies are underway.  One would expect a TN report on Teaching Quality to make a strong commitment to the use of TVAAS to gauge teacher education improvement.  Instead, it is not mentioned. 

2.  There seems to be no recognition that the "action step" described on page one--"develop a competency-based strategy for credentialing in the state"--is the same teacher education reform strategy that was tried and failed thirty years ago:  http://uex.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/16/4/379. Competency-based credentialing virtually collapsed of its own bureaucratic weight. 

The prospect of opening teacher licensure to persons who have not undergone formal teacher training (p. 1) is a breath of fresh air, but if the certification process operates under the auspices of the usual teacher-education/state-education-agency collaborative arrangement, it will yield more of the same outcomes. 

3.  The commitment to teacher screening and selection of students on the basis of "dispositions" and "dispositional factors" (p. 3) is enormously controversial and perhaps unconstitutional.  The Teaching Quality Initiative appears to be advancing a cause that NCATE backed away from in 2006. 

See the following article from the Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v53/i35/35a02001.htm

From the issue dated May 4, 2007

Education Scholars Debate Social Justice

            In a heated discussion of anti-gay violence, social inequality, and the obligations of teacher-training programs, scholars attending the business meeting of the American Educational Research Association in mid-April accused the organization of neglecting its commitment to the public good.
            The business meeting, held each year during the association's mammoth national conference, is usually quiet, pro forma, and sparsely attended. But this year the meeting was consumed by a long debate over the association's position on "social justice" as a component of teacher education. At least two dozen activists wore bright red clothing in protest of what they view as the organization's cowardice in recent policy disputes.
            The debate was an offshoot of the controversy over teacher-training programs' assessments of their students' "professional dispositions."
            Some conservative activists and civil-rights organizations have recently condemned such assessments, claiming that universities unconstitutionally use them to bully prospective teachers into accepting left-wing orthodoxies. In an essay in the current issue of Education Next, Laurie Moses Hines, an assistant professor of educational foundations at Kent State University's Trumbull campus, likens disposition evaluations to the loyalty oaths and "mental hygiene" requirements that teachers faced during the first half of the 20th century.       
             Last summer the field's largest accrediting body, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, responded to such criticisms by announcing that it would remove the term "social justice" from its accrediting standards.
            But the association's removal of the term combined with its decision not to include detailed material about anti-gay bigotry in its proposed new diversity standards has angered some activists on the left. Last fall scholars began a campaign to pressure the group to restore its "social justice" language. As part of that effort, the campaigners asked the research association to officially denounce NCATE's moves. The research association declined to do so. http://chronicle.com

Section: The Faculty

Volume 53, Issue 35, Page A20

4.  The report seems oblivious to the reality that a Teaching Quality Initiative was needed because Tennessee’s teacher training programs are failing to produce satisfactory results.  Instead of encouraging teacher-education programs to examine whether the practices taught to teachers are effective in raising student achievement, the TQI report encourages the adoption of a statewide system of teaching professionalization that would give teachers a $10,000 salary increase for improved proficiency in the use of what may be ineffective practices.  NCATE, Barnett Berry and the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, and Linda Darling-Hammond--all well known architects of present-day teacher education orthodoxy--are extensively noted in the report's references.  In the words of the report:  

Professionalization of teaching typically has encompassed developmental and experiential acquisition of knowledge, attitudes, and values, standards for which are set by the profession itself. These important teacher characteristics often are associated with self-exploration, self-direction, and self-monitoring within a differentiated, inductive environment.  Creating a statewide system to implement professional standards and to develop such environments in schools also should improve school climate and promote student learning, and should increase retention of quality teachers. (p. 4).

The concept of using salary bonuses to encourage improvement, however, may have value.  A $10,000 per year bonus for college of education deans whose graduates meet certain value-added achievement benchmarks would seem to offer a clear and direct avenue to the outcomes sought by public policy. 

5.  As if to banish the question of whether Tennessee’s teacher-education curriculum is aligned with its efforts to improve student achievement, the TQI proposes that higher education faculty be required to employ "evidence-based" or "best" teaching practices in their college classes.  These are the practices currently favored by NCATE and taught to teachers in most schools of education. 

The term "evidence-based" sounds like the term "research-based" that is used by the federal Institute of Education Sciences http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ies/index.html, but it is a much broader term.  As used in the TQI report, “evidence based” refers to curricula or practice that are supported by qualitative evidence including teacher or student opinion.  Most practices now taught in schools of education would be considered "evidence-based" practices.  In contrast, the term "research-based" used by the IES refers to curricula and teaching practices that are supported by rigorous quantitative evidence. 

The report argues that college and university students would benefit from exposure to “evidence-based,” “best practice” teaching styles despite the fact that their effectiveness remains untested against TVAAS data. 


My recommendation is that we move ahead with our plans to study teacher education in Tennessee.  The success of our larger effort to encourage the development of high-performing schools will ultimately depend on teacher quality and teacher training.  Without improvement in the training and professional development of teachers, schools that employ the kind of data-driven practices found in our Value-Added Achievement Award winners will remain in short supply. 

J. E. Stone, Ed.D.
Education Consumers Foundation
1655 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22209
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703-525-8841 fax




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