Big (Useless) Data from Title II
First, a reminder of what Title II federal funds were supposed to be used for.
(1) improve student achievement;
(2) improve the quality of the current and future teaching force by improving the preparation of prospective teachers and enhancing professional development activities;
(3) hold institutions of higher education accountable for preparing teachers who have the necessary teaching skills and are highly competent in the academic content areas in which the teachers plan to teach, such as mathematics, science, English, foreign languages, history, economics, art, civics, Government, and geography, including training in the effective uses of technology in the classroom; and
(4) recruit highly qualified individuals, including individuals from other occupations, into the teaching force.
To do that, states are required to collect data on their teacher preparation programs (TPPs) to make sure they are accomplishing the above goals. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that all that data was not being used or was not useful to the states in carrying out these goals. The Data Quality Campaign sited these findings from the report.
- Officials from 3 out of 5 case-study states, and 7 out of 14 EPPs, reported that collecting data on the effectiveness of EPP graduates is challenging.
- Federal reporting requirements are often duplicative: 48 states told GAO that they are either not using some sections of the Title II data reports or that they already collect most of the useful Title II data elements through other mechanisms.
- “Very few” states actually use the Title II data to inform state funding decisions or to inform district hiring practices, and 8 of 14 EPPs reported to GAO that “very little” of their Title II data was useful to them in assessing their own performance
The GAO report looked at how states were assessing whether TPPs are low-performing. Failure to identify such low performing TPPs could result in, “potential teaching candidates may have difficulty identifying low-performing TPPs. This could result in teachers who are not fully prepared to educate children.” Through interviews, the GAO found states making changes to their TPPs did so in three general categories: “(1) increasing subject-matter knowledge of teachers, (2) modifying coursework related to teaching techniques, and (3) using classroom training to provide real world experience.”
The interviewees were asked about their efforts to prepare new teachers for classroom requirements. Those efforts focused on “changes to prepare teaching candidates for new state K-12 standards… providing TPPs with guidance about the new standards… adjusting their process for approving TPPs. Most states also required prospective teachers to pass licensing tests that have been modified in response to the new standards.”
Since we have new common core standards, we are focused on making new teachers competent in those content areas, and we have new tests to evaluate whether our teaching programs were successful at mastering that content, one would think we would see an upward trajectory on those test scores. The results from the new teacher certification exams here in Missouri, however, show the opposite, at least when it comes to math. The lowest pass rates for the new test came in the secondary math area (14%). It should be noted that we aren’t doing all the great in the middle school math either, with less than 50% of our teaching candidates passing the test on their first try with only having to answer 61% of the questions correctly. If we don’t have teachers who really know their content for middle school, it is unreasonable to expect that they are going to lay a good foundation of mathematical practices with students who will need that knowledge to master secondary math concepts. We can see why the State Board would be looking more to alternative certification programs to find teachers for those areas where we have shortages. That certainly would be in line with the goals of Title II.
(A) SECONDARY SCHOOL CLASSES- Increasing the percentage of secondary school classes taught in core academic subject areas by teachers–
(i) with academic majors in those areas or in a related field;
(ii) who can demonstrate a high level of competence through rigorous academic subject area tests; or
(iii) who can demonstrate competence through a high level of performance in relevant content areas.
Unfortunately, the Board member who is also the former President of the Missouri School Board Association, was more worried that the content advisory committees, who approved the questions and set the initial cut scores, have purposely made the tests “too hard,” which makes the goal of reporting teachers rated as highly qualified, in sufficient numbers, too difficult. This is applying frat boy hazing-justification mentality to teachers who sit on those committees, who are tenured and have nothing to fear from high quality incoming talent and everything to lose from low quality teachers preparing students poorly in lower grades. This is what leadership in Missouri looks like.
This is the kind of data the state has to work with, and this is the kind of decision making they draw from that data. What are they likely to do with Title II data?
Here is an example of the data states are require to collect and report to the feds, from the University of Central Missouri. Let’s look at one typical data point collected.
Prospective teachers are prepared to effectively teach in urban and rural schools, as applicable.
Hard to see why this type of rich data is not being used by states to determine the effectiveness of their teaching programs. (end sarc)
The GAO report lamented that only a minority of states, (less than a third) are able to share the information they gather about their TPPs effectiveness. If the data available from a Title II report is as informative as just noted above, it is hard to consider this a great loss. However, states reported spending between 21-100 staff hours completing the annual Title II state- level reports and another 21-100 hours assisting with institution and program-level Title II reports.
After all that, 25 states said the reports were “neither useful nor not useful,” “slightly useful,” or “not useful.”
Most of the TPPs and K-12 districts and several other stakeholders with whom we spoke questioned the usefulness of some Title II data to themselves and other stakeholders. Officials from 6 of the 14 TPPs with whom we spoke reported spending at least a month completing the annual Title II reports. Yet, 8 of the 14 TPPs told us that very little of the Title II data was useful to them for assessing the performance of their own programs.[emphasis added] Officials from several TPPs also expressed confusion about the overarching goal of the Title II reporting requirements. The TPP officials said they have not seen any indication that other stakeholders, such as state and federal regulators or prospective teaching candidates, were using the Title II data to inform decisions. Further, none of the officials in the six K-12 school districts we spoke with said they use the Title II data when comparing TPP performance or recruiting new teachers. Similarly, seven researchers and stakeholder organizations we spoke with questioned the usefulness of some of the Title II data for research purposes.
Does anyone believe, based on the GAO’s report, that we will see a reduction in reporting requirements for states? In a country where more is always better, we are more likely to see data points added to the reporting to make the data “better.” Perhaps a heads up to the Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, Committee on Education and the Workforce, House of Representatives for whom the report was prepared is in order. When it comes to funding education, it is requirements like these that are steering money away from classrooms and useful activities, and making education in general more expensive, not more effective.