Monk Serves on NRC Committee that Recommends Comprehensive Data Network to Improve Teacher Preparation Programs
by Joe Savrock (May 2010)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – David H. Monk, dean of Penn State’s College of Education, served as a member of a National Research Council (NRC)-appointed committee that recently completed a six-year, congressionally mandated study on teacher education programs. Monk was one of 17 members of the NRC’s Committee on Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States, which assessed how well America’s K–12 teachers are educated.
The committee’s report, titled Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy, states that better data on teacher preparation would aid efforts to improve education in the United States. It recommends that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) develop a national education data network to integrate existing information on teacher preparation, drive the collection of new data, and provide needed information to researchers and policy makers working toward better approaches to preparing K–12 teachers.
Published by National Academies Press, the report was released in late April at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, held in Denver.
Said Monk, “The absence of a comprehensive data network describing key elements of such a large and ongoing investment in the development of teacher talent is disturbing and warrants corrective action. The Committee hopes that its work will stimulate new partnerships between policy makers and researchers to gather and make sense of the relevant information.”
More than 200,000 students complete teacher preparation programs in the U.S. every year, says the report. While most of these students graduate from traditional bachelor's or master's degree programs housed in colleges and universities, some 20 to 30 percent enter the teaching field through one of about 130 alternative routes, such as Teach for America or Teaching Fellows, which recruit and train teachers without traditional degrees or certification.
Which pathway produces better-qualified teachers has long been the subject of debate. But, as the report says, the distinction between traditional and alternative pathways is neither clear-cut nor particularly useful. Furthermore, a program that is considered traditional in one state might be categorized as alternative in another, the report notes.
The report finds that there is currently little definitive evidence that particular approaches to teacher preparation yield educators whose students are more successful than others. Existing studies have struggled to capture the details of teacher preparation that are most likely to result in differences in quality, largely because of the unavailability of relevant data.
The report concludes that both strong content knowledge and familiarity with how students learn a particular subject are important for reading, mathematics, and science teachers. It acknowledges that many, if not most, mathematics teachers lack the level of preparation that the professional community deems adequate to teach the subject. Also, high numbers of teachers of middle- and high-school mathematics courses are teaching outside the field for which they were trained.
The report indicates that more research is needed to explore and establish links between teacher preparation and learning—both teachers' learning and student learning. Such research would be easier to conduct if researchers had access to measures of student outcomes that provide richer information than what can be gleaned from standardized achievement scores alone. While scores are readily available, they provide incomplete measures both of students' learning and the effects of teachers.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education at the request of Congress, with additional support provided by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
NRC is an arm of the National Academies, a scientific body created to advise the federal government on scientific matters. The National Academies are composed of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. These private, nonprofit institutions provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.