Texas can lead on using data to improve teaching

SMU Dean David Chard co-writes about Texas lawmakers seizing this moment to make policies designed not to punish, but to elevate the effectiveness of teachers and improve student learning.


The era of No Child Left Behind is over. Under the new federal law that replaces it, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a great deal of responsibility for the Texas education system returns to Texas. Will Texas lawmakers seize this moment to make policies designed not to punish, but to elevate the effectiveness of teachers and improve student learning?

We ask that question as leaders of two diverse colleges of education (Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Permian Basin). We are deans who want to set and meet high expectations for preparing great teachers to serve all students. To do that, we need useful data. Yet Texas state law and policies prevent us from accessing the data we need to improve.

This problem isn’t confined to Texas. As members of the nonprofit Deans for Impact, we analyzed data collected by 23 member-led programs. The results were staggering. Only six programs have access to student achievement data connected to the teachers educated by those colleges. Less than a third of the member colleges have access to other data on the performance of graduates, such as classroom observations. And it’s nearly impossible to compare data across programs.

We face patchwork quilt of data. At both SMU and UT Permian Basin, the data we collect or can access is very limited. And even when we can collect our own data on the teachers we’ve educated, it can be disjointed and fragmented.

This creates an opportunity for Texas to emerge as a national leader on improving teacher effectiveness by connecting teacher-performance data to teacher education programs. Newly appointed Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has identified support for teachers as a top priority, which suggests a willingness to embrace new ideas and policies on this issue.

We call upon Commissioner Morath to match his commitment to supporting teachers with actions that will give Texas educator-preparation programs the data they need and the proper incentives to improve. There are three keys to this.

First, Texas should increase access to its state data system. Texas is ahead of many states in that it has a state-wide data system that links teacher- and student-performance data back to preparation programs. But educator-preparation programs have extremely limited access to the data. While we respect the need to maintain teacher and student privacy, our ability to improve our programs is hampered by a lack of insight into our graduates’ impact on learning. Quality data on graduates helps programs understand where and how to improve; it also helps states determine how best to allocate (often limited) state resources. We believe there’s a way to provide access to the data and preserve teacher and student privacy.

Second, Texas should build on its newly adopted educator-evaluation system to create innovative performance measures for preservice teachers. The Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System will become the state-recommended system next school year. A similar performance assessment (the TAP rubric) is used by some Texas educator-preparation programs, including SMU, but there is no state-wide uniformity. Consistency in how educator-preparation programs assess preservice teachers could increase data comparability across programs and help align assessment of teachers in training and teachers in the classroom. Identifying measures that can assess preservice performance and ultimately predict student outcomes is important work. Texas should play a leading role.

Third, Texas should capitalize on federal provisions that allow the state to create incentives for teacher-education programs that commit goals based on student outcomes. States can create voluntary certification processes for educator-preparation programs to commit to preparing teachers who meet certain classroom-performance criteria. These processes would shift the focus to outcomes (such as whether graduates increasing K-12 student learning) from inputs (such as whether program faculty hold doctorates).

In Texas, every student should be taught by an effective, well-prepared educator. By taking steps to increase data access, to innovate on measures of teacher-candidate performance and to recognize programs that aim to be held accountable, Texas will raise the bar for the state’s teacher-preparation system and play a leading role in transforming the field. This matters for teachers, but it matters far more for our students.