Teachers prep standards under debate

Some want national rules, while others want to keep local control

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DES MOINES — Sarah Montgomery found out Thursday afternoon she’ll finish the final half year of her 4.5-year course of study to become a state-certified teacher in Des Moines and Ankeny.

“I got placed at Carver Elementary School in Des Moines, and I’m also going to be at an elementary school in Ankeny!” the 22-year-old University of Northern Iowa student from Newton wrote in a text message Thursday night. “Yeah, I’m really excited.”

The elementary placements fill out Montgomery’s student teaching component as required by the state. When she’s done, she’ll be one of roughly 2,400 new teachers from 33 teacher preparation programs the state certifies annually.

Her specialty is special education. It’s an area, along with mathematics and the hard sciences, that school districts across the country have a hard time filling. That should give her a leg up when she goes job hunting.

Montgomery said she would like to stay in Iowa. But she’s also interested in teaching in either Minneapolis or Chicago. If she crosses state lines to get a job in either place, however, she’ll likely have to take some additional tests, just as an Illinois or Minnesota teacher likely would have to do in order to teach in Iowa.

That’s because no two states have the exact same set of standards for teacher preparation.

“I think national guidelines would be extremely helpful,” Montgomery said. “It’s a good way to hold every teacher accountable to a national standard. That’s how most of us felt when we discussed it in class.”

National debate

Iowa is in the thick of a national educational debate over the quality of teacher preparation programs.

Just as student learning standards have become nationalized as more states adopt the Common Core and advocates push nationalized student testing with programs such as SmarterBalanced, some argue that teaching prep programs should have a national set of criteria.

But skeptics worry about taking decisions out of the hands of state boards and stakeholders and giving the authority to someone else.

The debate came to a head last month when officials at the Iowa Department of Education asked state Board of Education members if they wanted to endorse the work of a new national teacher prep certification board called the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP.

It was part of the ongoing effort by the board to keep the state’s teacher preparation guidelines up to date. Board members were given three options:

--- Make no changes.

--- Adopt CAEP standards.

--- Keep the Iowa program with modifications along the lines of CAEP standards.

The board balked.

“The State Board requested more information about these options, as well as a recommendation from the Iowa (Department) of Education,” board Chairwoman Rosie Hussey wrote in an email.

She wrote that although the board had been learning about teacher preparation in Iowa since September, its members didn’t feel comfortable going down the paths being shown by the administration.

“It’s solely up to the board on what they want to do,” said Larry Bice, who oversees the state’s practitioner preparation programs. “They said they wanted more information, and we’re gathering that for them.”

State Board of Education members are expected to continue the discussion next month.

“I will not be commenting on the options until I have more information,” Hussey wrote.

Not done yet

One of the issues with CAEP standards are they aren’t done yet. A comment period of its proposed standards ended two weeks ago. A presentation of completed standards isn’t expected until this summer.

CAEP is the result of combining two national prep program standards boards — the Teacher Education Accreditation Council and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education — that never quite caught on.

“NCATE, the largest, has about 600 programs out of 1,450 nationwide. About a third of the top programs didn’t bother to seek NCATE certification,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that advocates for reform of teacher policies at the federal, state and local levels. It receives funding from such groups as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Joyce Foundation.

Walsh’s group is in the midst of a two-year study of teacher preparation programs across the country. In June, it expects to release a report, which will be published in U.S. News & World Report, ranking the quality of each one.

“Medical schools have national accreditation, law schools have national accreditation, if you want to be an engineer, you go to an accredited school,” Walsh said. “Why not teacher preparation programs?”

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, said national accreditation could be fine, but she thinks the union and other stakeholders need to be part of the conversation in Iowa.

“Nationally, we have members working on CAEP, but here, we want to be involved,” Cobb said. “It’s such an important step in the process that we’d like to help lead the conversation, especially since we don’t even know what the final standards are going to look like.”

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