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Aug 9, 2021

From the dictatorship of tests to a new educator preparation framework

It took a global pandemic to start undoing the damage done by the regime of teacher preparation that can be describes as over-under-regulation. A whole succession of federal policies is largely responsible for it: The No Child Left Behind, the Rate to the Top and the NCLB waiver regime. The Fed finally got out of the business of reforming education, but states continue to demonstrate significant inertia.

The regime consisted of two somewhat mutually exclusive pillars. The first is imposing multiple regulatory hurdles on the individual teacher candidate. No, it is not enough to finish high school; you must also pass a basic skills test. No, it is not enough to get a major from an accredited university; you must also pass a subject-matter knowledge test. And in many states, including California, you also must pass either a reading test, or somethings else to appease some crazy lobbyist still shock-shelled after the ancient Reading Wars. If the first pillar is about over-regulation, the second one is the opposite: let anyone, any school district or a local brewery open their own teacher preparation program, as long as they comply with some basic rules. That was a response to the conservative attacks on teacher preparation institutions in the University. We were called “Too theoretical” (read “Too social justice-oriented”).

Now the dictatorship of tests has started to crumble simply because during the pandemic, there was no way to administer all these tests, and states had to show some flexibility. And guess what – the sky did not fall on earth. This is beyond just teacher preparation; the entire duopoly of SAT/ACT is unraveling right before our eyes. Many universities had removed them from admission requirements, and guess what? – Yes you guessed it right, nothing terrible happened or is likely to happen. If anything, elite universities may become a little more diverse

What should state governments do? Right now, they are simply suspending or abandoning the most burdensome and non-sensical requirements. However, this time of change calls for a more comprehensive, more intentional shift in regulating teacher preparation. Both the intent of the new policy and its content should be constructed with the full use of research base, but also with the clarity of values connected to public interest.

One approach would be to prioritize diversification of the profession and encouraging professional self-regulation. For states like California, with rapidly changing demographics, the former is no brainer. The latter may be a bit more controversial, for we are asking our officials to overcome decades of suspicion toward teacher preparation programs. However, in our business professional ethics had always worked better than external controls. I’ve been at it for over 30 years. Every single time when we managed to improve something was because my colleagues wanted it to happen, not because someone told them what to do. Ethics is a material tangible asset. As far as regulatory tools go, shame and pride are much more powerful than accountability and compliance.

  1. Radical expansion of access. Right now, admission to teacher preparation program in almost every state is a nightmare of hoop-jumping exercise. The profession is just not welcoming to anyone, especially to candidates of color and to first generation in college.
  2. In admissions to credential programs:
    • Expanding ways of demonstrating subject matter mastery based on academic credentials earned plus possibly some review of transcripts.
    • Abandon basic skills testing. It does not exist for other professions. If regionally accredited higher ed institutions give bachelor degrees to people without basic literacy skills, let’s fix the higher education accreditation. But stop suspecting every future teacher of being illiterate.
    • Valuing cultural competency and lived experiences as well as subject matter knowledge. It is not that difficult to achieve. Take into consideration the exposure to diversity in high school experience, fluency in a second language, experiences of living abroad, etc – such forms of cultural capital are important for future teachers.
  3. In awarding credentials, move away from blanket EDTPA control to assessing a random sample of candidates. We helped Pearson collect hundreds of millions of dollars from struggling students, for a well over a decade now. Isn’t this time for them to show that EDTPA actually predicts teacher performance in the classroom? Is there proof that it does? If they still cannot do that after all this time, perhaps we should think of some other way of external validation for teacher preparation programs? The evidence so far is very mixed (Goldhaber 2017) or negative (Greenblatt 2015).
  4. In program approval, most states and CAPE use meaningless procedures like looking for places in syllabi where a certain ill-considered standard element is introduced, taught, or assessed. This ritual has nothing to do with research, nor does it reflect the real strengths or weaknesses of the program under review. The standards are made by a consensus of random experts and determined by each expert stamina more than their expertise. Almost none of the teacher preparation standards have any research base to rely on. And this is no secret – everyone in the know knows that. What works in program approval is when colleagues from other institutions come and look into what we do. States should keep and strengthen the peer-review part of the process, and radically reduce the mindless compliance activities resulting in thousands of pages of paperwork.
I am not going to insist these exact approaches should be used. However, I am certain state governments need new frameworks, some coherent strategy on what to do with its educator workforce and educator preparation.


Goldhaber, D., Cowan, J., & Theobald, R. (2017). Evaluating prospective teachers: Testing the predictive validity of the edTPA. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(4), 377-393.

Greenblatt, D., & O'Hara, K. E. (2015). Buyer Beware: Lessons Learned from EdTPA Implementation in New York State. Teacher Education Quarterly, 42(2), 57-67.

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