Research on the performance of trained and untrained teachers fails to find that students of trained teachers always perform better. In this article, Amita Chudgar, Associate Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University’s College of Education, argues that while a focus on teacher assessment and accountability is important, teacher training institutes must be held accountable for providing appropriate teacher training.
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There is widespread acknowledgement that learning levels in Indian schools leave a lot to be desired. Research provides strong evidence from across the world that teachers are crucial for improving learning outcomes (Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain 2005, Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff 2011). But after asserting the centrality of teachers, the literature stops speaking with a uniform voice. While from a policy perspective teacher education and teacher training are often considered crucial, research on the performance of trained and untrained teachers fails to find that students of trained teachers always perform better (The most systematic research on this subject from developing countries focuses on the performance of contract teachers; see Chudgar (2015) for a recent review of related literature). The narrative about the importance of teacher education is further complicated by a few parallel currents in the education system; One is the growth of a fairly heterogeneous private schooling sector, which pays limited attention to hiring trained teachers yet exhibits student performance that is comparable (and not inferior) to public schools. (Chudgar and Quin 2012, Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2015, Singh 2015). Second is the lack of systematic evidence that contract teachers with limited training underperform compared to the trained government teachers.
Teacher accountability and assessment necessary but not sufficient
Such results about lower or similar performance of trained government teachers and untrained private or contract teachers translate into calls for greater teacher accountability and assessment of teacher performance. An underlying assumption is that teacher accountability mechanisms with potential sanctions will serve to change teacher behaviour (increase motivation, commitment, effort) and thus provide a solution to the problem of academic underperformance. While the attention on teacher behaviour may be necessary it cannot be sufficient to bring about long-term and sustainable changes in the system1.
A significant number of Indian teachers, especially government teachers, teach in multi-grade classrooms in challenging remote locations with few amenities and limited mentoring. What good will be a teacher who is accountable but not equipped to teach the classroom she is facing? What if we wish to replace an underperforming teacher but cannot identify another teacher who can perform highly in that school-setting? Holding them accountable to their job is essential and assessing them may provide important diagnostic information too, but a focus on teacher assessment and accountability should not crowd out serious concerns about the underperformance of the teacher education enterprise itself.
Quality of the teacher education enterprise
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) document, “Themes and questions for Policy Consultation on School Education” is on the right track when it asks, “Why have the existing teacher training programmes failed to bring about improvements in the quality of teaching learning?” But arguably, before we can get to this important “why” question, there are a series of “what” and “how” questions that also need to be answered about teacher education in India. According to 2013 figures the country has a little over 1,000 government teacher training institutes and close to 15,000 private teacher training institutes. Together each year these institutes enroll close to 1,3,00,000 aspiring teachers. In terms of number of students, our teacher education system is larger than entire higher education systems of many small countries. How is it that such a vast enterprise seems to be unable to produce a discernable difference in the quality of education in our country? If trained and untrained teachers perform similarly then we must understand what does teacher education entail across India? What does it mean to be a B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) or D.Ed. (Diploma in Education) certified teacher? Is the teacher training adequate in length, content and, most importantly, quality?
In 2012-13, while studying teacher distribution patterns across India, we spoke to over 30 officials and actors involved in various aspects of teacher training, recruitment and placement. We heard consistently from these respondentsa dissatisfaction with the quality of teacher education available across the country both at pre-service and in-service levels (Luschei and Chudgar, forthcoming). The respondents voiced concerns about training institutes that did not really train, exam results that were completely manipulated. The 2012 Justice Verma Commission has made similar remarks and raised related concerns. But beyond this qualitative and somewhat sporadic evidence, we do not have any systematic way to verify how well these teacher education institutes perform in terms of training teachers. An influential study from the United States stands in stark contrast (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb and Wyckoff 2009). The authors gathered detailed data on several teacher education programmes in one state, how they train, what they train on, who their faculty are and so forth. They were then able to follow the aspiring teachers who trained at these different training programmes into their classrooms, with their own students. They found that different teachers were differently effective in improving the performance of their students. But more importantly they were able to link at least some of this teacher effectiveness all the way back to the specific aspects of teacher training they had received in their training programme.
Developing a rigorous model of teacher
A centralised test like the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) some might argue provides a measure of what the teachers are learning. And indeed the passing rates of the most recent Central TET (CTET) at 17% in September 2015, or 12% in February 2015 are an alarming indication of the underperformance of our teacher education system. (B.Ed. or D.Ed. degree is required to be eligible to appear for CTET). But this process too, as it is set-up now shifts the burden of underperformance on the aspiring teacher, while not holding their training institute to account, and it also tells us little about how effective these teachers will be in their classrooms.
Teacher education is an extensive higher education endeavour with real costs to the aspiring teachers and real implications for teacher hiring and salary decisions. We must therefore develop a clear understanding of what the labels of B.Ed. or D.Ed. from one institute versus another imply. What should a rigorous model of teacher training look like for diverse learners in our country? These systemic questions need to be addressed for solutions that are long-term and sustainable. A focus on teacher assessment and accountability is important but the close to 16,000 teacher training institutes must also be held to account for providing appropriate teacher training. Without attending to how teachers are prepared and supported to teach in the challenging circumstances they often work in, our educational reforms will remain incomplete.
- How to build a responsive accountability and assessment system is a separate topic of discussion; there is an emerging consensus in the education literature in the United States that good assessment and accountability mechanism are likely complex and multifaceted. For instance, readers may be aware of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project which, based on large, well-designed study concludes this: “Teachers, school leaders and education researchers agree that teaching is too complex to be fully captured by a single measure like student test scores. Feedback that captures the true range of professional skills and competencies that teachers must employ can be gathered from several sources, including student surveys, classroom observations and student test scores.”
- Boyd, Donald J, Pamela L Grossman, Hamilton Lankford, Susana Loeb and James Wyckoff (2009), “Teacher preparation and student achievement”, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 416-440.
- Chetty, R, JN Friedman and JE Rockoff (2011), ‘The long-term impacts of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood’, No. w17699, National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Chudgar, Amita and Elizabeth Quin (2012), “Relationship between private schooling and achievement: Results from rural and urban India”, Economics of Education Review, 31(4): 376-390.
- Chudgar, Amita (2015), “Association between Contract Teachers and Student Learning in Five Francophone African Countries”, Comparative Education Review, 59(2): 261-288.
- Luschei, TF and A Chudgar (Forthcoming), Teacher distribution in developing countries: Teachers of marginalized students in India, Mexico, and Tanzania’, Palgrave Macmillan.
- Muralidharan Karthik and Venkatesh Sundararaman (2015), “The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-Stage Experiment in India", Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 130, No. 3, pp. 1011-66.
- Rivkin, Steven G, Eric A Hanushek and John F Kain (2005), “Teachers, schools, and academic achievement”, Econometrica, Vol.73, 417-458.
- Singh, Abhijeet (2015), “Private school effects in urban and rural India: Panel estimates at primary and secondary school ages”, Journal of Development Economics, 113, 16-32.