For those teachers who have rallied around Board of Education member Amber Rountree’s resolution urging that the State of Tennessee issue a waiver for the TN Ready scores, the recent edict from the Obama administration must have been a blow. Rountree is proposing a resolution asking that the State of Tennessee not count any tests results for students to determine achievement or teachers for their evaluations.
This is one occasion where the teachers’ union cannot lay the blame on a blood-red Tennessee legislature, George W. Bush or the Republicans in Congress. The Obama administration’s Department of Education has already sent a series of letters to deans and college and university presidents across the nation informing them America is not holding those teacher candidates to appropriately high standards. The Department of Education has notified higher educators that is going to change. Teachers hold licenses to teach and the DOE is proposing to increase accountability by following the progress of new teachers for three years and look at the scores of students with an eye toward achievement and measuring those gains. That will be the new standard for ascertaining the quality of Teacher Preparation Programs. In short, the Obama administration and the DOE intend to hold institutions of higher learning accountable for those teachers graduating from their colleges and universities based on the scores of students K – 12.
Those colleges and universities who seem to be graduating a poor product or failing to meet appropriate standards will run the risk of losing federal funds. Former Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has published a letter stating “…the system we have for training teachers lacks rigor, is out of step with the times, and is given to extreme grade inflation that leaves teachers unprepared and their future students at risk.” Duncan cites a 2014 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality that states “many of our biggest teacher training programs are twice as likely to graduate students with honors than other programs in the same academic settings.” After noting that Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania graduated 80% of its students in the field of education with honors, compared to 26% of students in other programs – – – and Duncan noted several other such examples – – – the former Education secretary came to the conclusion: “There can only be two explanations for this unsettling phenomenon: either your teacher training programs are attracting an unusually gifted group of students or the standard for honors in education is too low. We know from other studies that it is not the first explanation.”
The Obama administration intends to punish those programs it perceives to be performing below expectations and standards. The Obama administration will hold universities and colleges accountable based upon how teachers perform based upon their students’ academic success.
Obviously the Tennessee General Assembly cannot contravene federal rules and regulations. Superintendent Buzz Thomas has been much criticized for his email warning board members the politics of the Rountree resolution are wrong and the timing is worse. With this latest edict from the Obama administration, the Tennessee General Assembly can merely blame the feds for not accepting the Rountree resolution.