Education Reform: Plans to redesign teacher colleges stalled

At a time when state education reform has very much focused on improving teacher quality, the state’s colleges and prospective teachers are being let off the hook temporarily.

Legislative committees have voted to delay for a year the enacting of proposals that would:

  • Require a prospective teacher to have at least a B+ GPA;
  • Increase the amount of time spent student teaching;
  • Begin the process of rating state universities’ teacher-training programs.

“We do not want to invite unintended consequences,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told legislators recently on why the Malloy administration supports putting off these initiatives.

This comes against the backdrop of a highly critical report by the former president of the state’s largest teacher college calling for drastic changes at Southern Connecticut State University’s teaching program.

“The future success of our educational system is at stake … Education redesign is critical,” Cheryl Norton, now president of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, wrote in her final sabbatical report in 2011. She highlighted 21 systemic changes that she said were needed at the New Haven-based school.

But legislators and the administration believe they need more time to overhaul the teacher preparation programs.

cheryl norton

Cheryl Norton, the former president of Southern Connecticut State University: ‘No longer can the teacher preparation programs stand in isolation from the communities they serve.’

“Maybe we do need to make it more difficult to become a teacher. We need to look at what the impact would be, though,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Higher Education Committee.

The “unintended consequences” could include districts’ having an even more difficult time filling certain teaching slots. A month after the start of the current school year, 4 percent of the 3,267 open teaching positions remained vacant because of a lack of qualified candidates, according to the State Department of Education.

Districts routinely have a hard time filling positions in special education, billingual education, math, science and remedial reading.

“We will find out what the impact will be after we do the study,” said Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Education Committee.

When Malloy rolled out his initiative to revamp the state’s 17 teacher colleges and “raise the bar”, no information was available on the number of students statewide that were accepted into teaching programs who were earning less than a 3.3 GPA. Half the students Central Connecticut State University has accepted in the last two years would not have made the cut.

The education commissioner and president of Board of Regents that oversees the the four Connecticut State Universities will lead this study panel. Their deadline is next April.

Change is slow

This is not the first time colleges have faced increased scrutiny over the 3,600 new teachers they graduate each year.

Principals and superintendents have complained for years that colleges do not adequately prepare future teachers. That view was echoed by three in five education school graduates responding to a national survey that their colleges did not prepare them for the realities of the classroom.

“We hear frequently from superintendents that they are not pleased with the product,” said Allan B. Taylor, a longtime member of the State Board of Education and the current chairman.

“Not all teacher preparation programs are equal,” said Sen. Toni Boucher from Wilton, ranking Republican on the Education Committee. Her proposal to increase admission requirements and mandate more in-classroom student teaching experiences, both things Malloy has said he supports, failed to make it out of committee.

Such a system of accountability could land the state new federal money. The Obama administration has proposed regulations that would direct more money to teacher colleges that can prove that their graduates have better student success.

Changes the state will consider include grading programs by their rigor, and the performance of new teachers in the classroom as determined by evaluations and student test scores. They will also look at program graduates’ retention, turnover and dismissal rates when they enter the profession.

Many of the state’s colleges have been reluctant to have their programs graded.

Eastern Connecticut State University earlier this year boasted about being ranked a top regional university by U.S. News & World Report. But CSU has tried to opt out of the magazine’s coming plans for the first time to rank teacher colleges,  and several private colleges also have been reluctant.

Nearly half of those who earn a teaching degree in the state’s public and private colleges each year attended a Connecticut State University.

Critical report

Norton, the former president of Southern Connecticut State University, wrote that a drastic change is needed to ensure that the school graduates quality teachers.

“The University must acknowledge its role in contributing to the solution,” Norton, now president of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, wrote in her final sabbatical report in 2011. “There is no consistency in student teaching, clinical practice is not well-defined, there is no accountability of what should occur in field experiences and no specificity about…the role and/or requirements of a mentor.”

She also wrote that much of the delay in launching increased requirements and accountability measures can be attributed to the “culture of the institution that acts independently from public schools” as well as the role tenured faculty enjoy.

“No longer can the teacher preparation programs stand in isolation from the communities they serve.”