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Teacher Preparation: A Review of Claims and Evidence

Key Brief Takeaway: Reforms of teacher preparation must avoid unproven approaches and must be combined with comprehensive efforts to improve schools and enhance learning

William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058,
Marilyn Cochran-Smith: (617) 552-4591,

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BOULDER, CO (March 16, 2016) – Teacher preparation has emerged as an acutely politicized and publicized issue in U.S. education policy and practice, and there have been fierce debates about the methods and reasoning behind it. Because of the importance of teachers and teacher education, policy should be driven by the best evidence based on high-quality research.

In Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence, Professor Marilyn Cochran-Smith of Boston College, along with colleagues Rebecca Stern, Juan Gabriel Sánchez, Andrew Miller, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe, M. Beatriz Fernández, Wen-Chia Chang, Molly Cummings Carney, Stephani Burton, and Megina Baker, explore four major national initiatives intended to improve teacher quality by “holding teacher education accountable” for arrangements and outcomes. This new policy brief scrutinizes each initiative in light of the research evidence.

These initiatives are: (1) the U.S. Department of Education’s state and institutional reporting requirements in the Higher Education Act (HEA); (2) the standards and procedures of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP); (3) the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) Teacher Prep Review; and (4) the edTPA uniform teacher performance assessment developed at Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) with aspects of data storage and management outsourced to Pearson, Inc.

These four initiatives reflect different accountability mechanisms and theories of change, and they are governed by different institutions and agencies, including governmental offices, professional associations, and private advocacy organizations. Despite differences, each assumes that the key to teacher education reform is accountability in the form of public assessment, rating, and ranking of states, institutions, programs, and/or teacher candidates. For each initiative, the brief asks two questions: What claims do proponents of the initiative make about how it will improve teacher preparation and thus help solve the teacher quality problem in the U.S.? What evidence supports these claims?

The first question focuses on the theory of change behind the initiative and its proponents’ assumptions about how particular mechanisms actually operate to create change. The second involves the validity of the initiative as a policy instrument—that is, whether or not there is evidence that the initiative actually meets (or has the capacity to meet) its stated aims.

The authors have two major conclusions. The first is that across three of the four initiatives (HEA regulations, CAEP accreditation, and NCTQ’s reviews), there is only thin evidence to support the claims proponents make about how the assumed policy mechanisms will actually operate to improve programs. The fourth initiative, edTPA, has more evidentiary support, but widespread implementation and professional acceptance may be challenging to accomplish.

The second conclusion is that although all four accountability initiatives reviewed are expressly intended to diminish educational inequality, they are grounded in what the authors of the brief call thin equity. That is, they are grounded in the assumption that school factors, particularly teachers, are the major source of educational inequality and that access to good teachers is the major solution to the equity problem. This viewpoint ignores the fact that variation among different teachers accounts for a relatively limited portion of the overall variance in student achievement. It does not adequately acknowledge that inequality is rooted in and sustained by much larger, long-standing, and systemic societal inequalities.

Professor Cochran-Smith and her colleagues explain that “policymakers must acknowledge and address the multiple factors—in addition to teacher quality—that influence student outcomes, including in particular the impact of poverty, family and community resources, school organization and support, and policies that govern housing, health care, jobs, and early childhood services.” The brief provides a list of recommendations for policymakers to follow in evaluating teacher preparation systems.

Find Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence, by Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Rebecca Stern, Juan Gabriel Sánchez, Andrew Miller, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe, M. Beatriz Fernández, Wen-Chia Chang, Molly Cummings Carney, Stephani Burton, and Megina Baker, on the web at:


The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (