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Plan to rate teacher training raises concerns

December 15, 2014

A U.S. Department of Education plan to use student test scores to rate colleges and universities for their teacher training is drawing fire from some Indiana educators.

The DOE is asking states to develop rating systems that could affect whether a college receives federal grants to help train teachers. The systems would include students' performance in the classroom and the ability of graduates to find and retain jobs.

Catherine Brown, head of the division of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, questioned the need for the ratings system and noted that medical and business schools aren't held accountable when a doctor commits malpractice or a business official commits fraud.

"It's important to hold teacher education programs accountable for preparing future teachers with what we know are best practices," she told the Daily Journal. "I don't know we can be held accountable for those graduates actually implementing what they learn in a teacher education program."

Brown said some of the factors that would be used for the ratings can vary widely from college to college and from school district to school district. Comparing graduates seeking jobs across the country with those looking for jobs in Indiana isn't an accurate measure, because the number of open teaching positions and the standards for those jobs vary, she said.

Other educators are open to the idea.

Rick Ahlgrim, an assistant superintendent in Greenwood, said the new ratings could give districts more information about the schools that are training their future teachers.

"We already know that some schools of education will graduate future teachers who will not be effective in the classroom. And we know that there are other schools of education that will graduate future teachers who will be effective in the classroom," Ahlgrim said. "And we take that very seriously."

Ahlgrim said the most successful teachers in his district typically have graduated from programs that balance theoretical concepts with practical lessons. That means teachers-to-be get experience managing students in a classroom, creating lesson plans and tracking students' academic progress, along with studying and debating which teaching methods are the most effective.

He said some colleges focus too much on academic theories and not enough on preparing students to lead a classroom.

"The kids need someone who's competent in classroom management, in lesson planning," he said.

Brown said she hopes schools will be able to work with state officials in charge of creating the rating system.

"I'm hopeful we'll be in the conversation, but that's sometimes a more political decision than anything," she said.

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