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Report card time: How do Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs stack up?

Teach For America places teachers in low-income districts across the country.
Teach For America places teachers in low-income districts across the country.

If you are a new teacher trained in Tennessee, chances are that you were licensed through a traditional institution of higher education. You are also likely to be white, female and from Tennessee.

Those are among the findings of the 2015 report card on Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs, which was released this week.

Produced by the State Board of Education, the report examines both traditional education programs at universities, and alternative programs like Teach For America and Memphis Teacher Residency.

It includes teacher effectiveness scores based on Tennessee Value Added Assessment Scores, known as TVAAS, a calculation that uses the difference in a student’s test scores from year to year to determine a classroom teacher’s contribution to student growth. In past years, the report has highlighted some programs as being “most effective,” but this year the State Board of Education chose not to make that judgment.

Laura Encalade, director of policy for the board, urges the report’s readers to look at programs’ individual report cards, and make their own calls on quality according to that data.

“We want to look at how we determine aggregate program effectiveness,” she said. “It’s a hard metric to get at.”

In recent years, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission produced the report funded through Tennessee’s share of the Race to the Top award. Now that that federal money is tapped, the report is back in the hands of the State Board of Education, which plans to redesign the report card in coming years.

“We believe the report serves an important function in providing stakeholders and the public with valuable information and insight into teacher training programs,” said Sara Heyburn, the board’s executive director. “Moving forward, we will seek input from stakeholders on the design and data included in future reports.”

Here are some takeaways from this year’s report card:

  • Among the 4,225 new teachers prepared in Tennessee programs, 85 percent are white, 77 percent are female, and 85 percent are from Tennessee. Racially, that’s far different from how public schools look in the state, where 65 percent of students are white, nearly a quarter are black, 8 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Asian.
  • While 90 percent of new teachers were licensed through programs affiliated with universities, alternative programs graduated a significant proportion of new teachers in some subjects. For example, 9 percent of new STEM teachers statewide came through Teach for America Memphis.
  • Fewer than half — 48 percent — of teacher candidates who finished education programs in Tennessee in 2010-2011 are still teaching. For individual programs, retention after four years was similar for both alternative programs such as Teach for America and traditional programs.

You can find the report here, and our story about last year’s report here.

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