Education professors concerned over Dept of Education's proposed teacher-training requirements


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Iowa university administrators are cautioning U.S. Department of Education officials to more carefully evaluate training-program performance as negotiations unfold in implementing more accountability in teacher-training programs.

"It's an outright attack on public education, and it's unfair," said Joanne Olson, an associate professor at Iowa State University. "People don't understand the professional knowledge base that's needed for teaching."

The Obama administration released its plans for education in 2011, seeking to keep better tabs on the success rate of education graduates.

But nationally, colleges and universities are urging officials that analyzing postgraduate employment is difficult to gauge.

Susan Lagos Lavenz, a UI associate dean for teacher education and student services in the College of Education, said state code requires Iowa schools of education to follow up with their graduates.

And though these schools meet government standards, some aspects of the department's new proposed regulations have sparked some concern.

"There are other factors that affect our students' achievements," Lagos Lavenz said. "You have to think about the economic status of the students and the school [graduates work with]."

According to a press release, the Education Department recently started negotiations with colleges of education to work out the specifics of the new project aimed at placing more accountability on teaching programs and enhancing graduates' success in the workforce.

The teacher-evaluation system currently maintained by the Education Department includes a questionnaire with 440 fields focused on teacher-training programs' inputs. The department wants to focus more heavily on the outcomes of teaching students after graduation, according to the release.

Melissa Heston, a University of Northern Iowa coordinator for elementary education, said survey and test scores aren't the best way to track a student's progress.

"There are details that need to be taken into account," she said. "You can't tell about the success of a program by testing graduates."

Lagos Lavenz said teachers have many different experiences — such as teaching in low or high poverty schools — that make testing ineffective.

"We have no control over the setting, the quality of students, or the resources in the school," she said.

Education Department officials did not return calls on Wednesday.

The factors the department is focusing on, Heston said, could cause students to develop the wrong goals.

"Schools need to know how they are doing," Heston said. "But policy makers are sending mixed messages to them by saying programs need to stay on top. Teachers need to work together to better teaching quality."

If all aspects of accountability — like student and school diversity — were taken into account, Olson said she would accept the Education Department's requirements.

"There is no problem with accountability," she said. "Policymakers are just looking at the wrong things."

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