Teacher training programs have frequently come under attack as ill-conceived or mediocre, and teachers themselves have often complained that such programs do not adequately prepare them to handle children with varying needs and abilities.
“We have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said at a town-hall meeting at Dunbar High School in Washington on Friday.
“Often the vast majority of schools,” he said, “when I talk to teachers, and have very candid conversations, they feel they weren’t well prepared.”
By this summer, the administration will propose rules for evaluating all teacher training programs, using metrics that could include the number of graduates placed in schools, as well as pass rates on licensing exams, teacher retention rates and job performance ratings of teachers.
A 2013 review of 2,420 teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group that advocates tougher standards for teachers, found that less than a quarter provided concrete strategies for managing students in a classroom. Most of them failed to guarantee that teacher candidates would be placed with highly skilled teachers during student-teaching stints.
Any proposals by the administration are likely to stir debate, particularly a requirement that training programs release the evaluation data of their graduates’ performance in the classroom. Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed with the Department of Education to develop teacher performance ratings that include student test scores.
Some education experts say that such ratings are not reliable and that it would be difficult to grade teacher training programs using standardized test scores. “This is about a policy that seeks to rate institutions on something that we just cannot feasibly link them to in terms of responsibility,” said Bruce D. Baker, a professor of education at Rutgers University.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union, said she supported improvements in teacher training programs. But, she said, the administration should not carry out “a quick-fix, test-and-punish, market-based ranking of programs.”
On Friday, Mr. Duncan said teacher preparation should become more like medical training. But educators warned that measurements could create the wrong incentives. Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, said that if medical schools, for example, were judged by the patient mortality rates of the doctors they trained, schools would never train doctors to treat the sickest patients.
“If we evaluated doctors based on that kind of measure, nobody would train AIDS physicians,” Ms. Darling-Hammond said. “They’d all train pediatricians who worked in the suburbs where kids are pretty healthy to begin with.” She suggested that rating systems for teacher training programs could be based on surveys of graduates and their employers, as well as pass rates on licensing portfolios.
Education leaders said policy makers should have started with changes to teacher preparation programs, rather than focusing on the overhaul of tenure or changes to current teacher performance ratings. “It’s like the public health equivalent of trying to cure people who have a malady versus trying to prevent the malady in the first place,” said Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, a group that pushes for test-based teacher evaluations and has battled teachers unions.
“We’re putting a lot of money in the evaluation of teachers who never had any business getting into the profession anyway,” Mr. Barone said, “or we’re remediating and telling them things to do that they should have been told in their teacher prep programs. They were cheated. It’s not fair to anybody.”
The administration’s proposals do not include any additional federal money to pay for the proposed rating systems, but about $100 million in existing funding for teacher preparation programs could be linked to their ratings.
Two years ago, the administration tried to devise a proposal for rating teacher training programs, but the committee created to develop the rules could not agree and the proposal stalled. David M. Steiner, the dean of the School of Education at Hunter College in New York, who served on the rule-making committee in 2012, said he hoped the administration would be more successful this time.
“We owe our kids highly effective teachers, and we’ve got to begin to be highly transparent about what we’re doing,” he said.