Educator quality is a topic of considerable interest nationwide. Economists try to calculate a teacher’s “value added”; states try to evaluate teacher and administrator effectiveness; critics worry about teacher and administrator preparation; practitioners ask for relevant professional development; policymakers strive to create policies for licensure and implement incentives and sanctions to influence the distribution of qualified educators; and parents search for caring teachers who will nurture the whole child. Yet, little consensus exists on what constitutes educator quality and how it should be measured, evaluated, and distributed. Several discussions, in particular, currently dominate the national discourse:
- value-added models for educators and for preparation programs;
- questions about who should prepare teachers and administrators and where and what they should learn, know, and be able to do at initial licensure;
- assessments for determining teacher quality at initial licensure;
- identification of what constitutes effective teaching;
- design and implementation of systems for evaluating educators;
- evidence-based methods for improving teacher performance; and
- influences on teacher retention, particularly in difficult-to-staff schools.
In recent years, the federal government has tied major funding initiatives such as Race to the Top ($4 billion) and major policy initiatives such as No Child Left Behind to states’ implementation changes in teacher preparation, teacher licensure, and teacher evaluation. Likewise, foundations are funding multimillion-dollar efforts, such as the Carnegie Corporation’s Teachers for a New Era ($100 million+) and the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project ($45 million) to produce better research and spawn preparation and evaluation program improvements. The ultimate goal of both federal and private funding is to improve educator effectiveness and thereby to improve student achievement.
In the state of Connecticut, the comprehensive PA 12-116 Act Concerning Education Reform, part of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Year of Education initiative, has laid out a legislative framework to scaffold the revision of state policies and regulations for educator preparation, credentialing, ongoing professional development, and evaluation. The legislation laid the groundwork for the development of two high-profile advisory councils, charged with examination and revision of state policies and regulations. The Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee (PEAC) was established to develop guidelines for evaluating teachers, principals, and educator support specialists. In February 2012, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved the state’s evaluation framework to be translated by PEAC into Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED). The pilot implementation of SEED was subsequently studied by a team of Neag researcher.
The Educator Preparation Advisory Council (EPAC) was established in 2012 to propose principles, guidelines, and regulations for teacher and administrator preparation. Neag faculty and administration are well-represented as members and support staff to the EPAC and its sub-committees and are actively shaping state-level policy and regulation.
Despite numerous policy and program changes being made, the research needed to learn from and to inform those changes is limited. For instance, despite the furor over questions of the quality of teacher preparation, the research literature remains ambiguous. Similarly, while states and districts have moved to adopt enhanced educator evaluation systems that include student growth or value-added teacher measures and measures derived from elaborated classroom observation schemes, the stability and validity of these measures remain contested. Almost every new policy uses outcome measures of students as indicators of “effectiveness,” yet we know that those measures are both limited in what they assess, and limiting in terms of what children are taught in these contexts. The consequences for both educators and students of attaching ratings and pay incentives to educator effectiveness measures remain unknown. Similarly, while some claim that we know the features of high-quality professional development, rigorous research designed to test those “best practices” does not soundly prove their worth.
Educator effectiveness issues are especially important for the children in urban and rural settings who need well-prepared and highly effective educators the most. In Connecticut, the legislative Achievement Gap Task Force and privately funded entities such as the Connecticut Coalition for Education Reform (CCER) and Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) are pushing for research to build the evidence base to support teaching and administrative practices that will close Connecticut’s achievement gap.
Strengths in Educator Quality and Effectiveness
- The Neag School of Education has a long-standing commitment to educator quality, as evidenced by our rigorous educator preparation programs, our comprehensive research record, and extensive grant-funding for research-to-practice work in education settings. Many aspects of our preparation programs exemplify current best practice.
- The topic of educator quality cuts across the entire school, engaging faculty and students in the departments of Educational Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Psychology.
- Measurement experts in the Neag School have engaged in extensive R&D work on how to measure teaching and teacher performance as well as student learning, and they bring nationally recognized expertise to this endeavor.
- The Neag School is host to two premier education journals published by Sage. Educational Administration Quarterly (EAQ) is a ranked educational leadership journal sponsored by the University Council for Educational Administration. Dr. Casey Cobb, professor and department head, serves as Editor-in-Chief and is supported by several associate editors who are faculty in the departments of Educational Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Curriculum and Instruction. Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ) is the top journal in gifted and talented education and sponsored by the National Association for Gifted Children. GCQ is edited by Dr. D. Betsy McCoach and Dr. Del Siegle from the department of Educational Psychology.
- Teacher Education faculty in Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Psychology are engaged in a state-of-the-art revision of our nationally-recognized teacher preparation program, with a focus on ensuring that our graduates develop “high-leverage” teaching practices that have been shown to have the strongest effect on student learning. As part of the program reform effort, faculty will develop measures of beginning teacher effectiveness.
- Neag graduates are known across the state as the best-prepared first-year teachers. Likewise, graduates of our administrator preparation programs are highly sought after and highly successful school principals and superintendents. A Wallace Foundation study undertaken by the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute highlighted UCAPP as one of eight exemplary administrator preparation programs.
- The Neag School has a strong presence and, in many cases, well-developed partnerships with school leaders who are facing considerable challenges with current pressures to both evaluate and improve teaching in their schools. Our relationships with school leaders provide us with the level of access required to conduct meaningful research on school- based initiatives. In addition, Educational Leadership faculty are valued collaborators with the Principals’ Center at the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
- The Neag School has long-standing, trusted relationships with a number of high-need schools and school districts. As an example, the UCAPP PLUS (Preparing Leaders for Urban Schools) program represents a partnership between Neag and Hartford Public Schools.
- The state of Connecticut has a long history of cutting-edge teacher quality reforms. Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) staff are interested in leading the country in the reform of educator preparation, on-going teacher licensure, and educator evaluation. Currently, the state is involved in national initiatives focused on educator development in which Neag plays an active role, such as the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP), the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR), and the LEAD Connecticut UCAPP Residency Program for Turnaround School Leaders.
- Neag School faculty and leadership have engaged in productive collaborations with the CSDE for many years. Currently, Neag faculty and administrators play key roles on EPAC, PEAC, SEED, LEAD CT, and CEEDAR. In the past two years, the CSDE has provided millions in funding to Neag to plan, implement, and research the CommPACT Schools initiative for school reform, early reading intervention, mathematics teacher development, and teacher evaluation systems.
- Several Neag faculty have conducted research on educator effectiveness already in the state and nationally. For example, Dr. Rachael Gabriel studied teaching evidence gathered through the Gates Foundation MET project; Dr. Morgaen Donaldson is a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow studying how incorporating student academic achievement in teachers’ performance evaluations affects teachers’ motivation and work behaviors. We have formed a cross-departmental research team to extend our work in this arena, led by Dr. Suzanne Wilson, Endowed Professor in Teacher Education, National Academy of Education Fellow, and leading figure in the national conversation about educator quality.
- Most importantly, as a result of UConn’s recent hires joining faculty who have dedicated their work to school reform and educator preparation, Neag has perhaps the largest critical mass of scholars who cut across disciplinary specialties in political science, policy, sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, measurement and statistics, economics, and law and who are well positioned to put UConn on the map as a hub for research and practice in relevant education policy, training and preparation programs, and assessment.
Opportunities in Educator Quality and Effectiveness
- We see the potential to grow our collaborations with the CSDE, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Education, in reforms of teacher preparation and professional development, licensure, and ongoing professional certification.
- We are well-positioned to contribute to a national discussion about education policy to enhance teacher learning and development.
- The federal government offers considerable research and development funding related to educator quality and effectiveness through the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Education Sciences. State funding for experiments in policy, professional development, higher education reform, teacher preparation and licensure, principal certification, and evaluation will be forthcoming.
- The Neag School of Education is primed to become the home of a national organization, such as the University Council for Educational Administration, and a major journal, such as the Journal of Teacher Education, within the next five years.
- With the addition of eminent faculty, we are poised to recruit cohorts of doctoral students interested in interdisciplinary training in the measurement and improvement of teaching and instructional leadership, as well as in educator preparation. In particular, we see UConn as positioned to create an interdisciplinary doctoral program unlike any in the country, one that is specifically designed to prepare Ph.D.s to be researchers who understand practice and policy and are poised to work with policymakers, educators, and researchers.