Last week, Senator Frist wrote an important op-ed highlighting the need to improve all areas of the teacher pipeline (that is, pathway teachers take from choosing to become teachers to the classroom). He could not be more correct that we must focus “on the start of the teacher pipeline and growing the pool of better-prepared teachers before they enter the classroom.” At DQC we believe that every issue has data implications, and it is our job to show what they are. In that spirit, allow me to tackle the teacher preparation piece of the teacher workforce pipeline.

Just as we say educators need access to their students’ data, teacher preparation programs need access to data on how their graduates perform in the classroom. They can use this feedback data to strengthen their programs and better serve districts, schools, and ultimately students. Currently only six states, including Tennessee, automatically share performance data with their teacher preparation programs, so there is work to do to get more states up to speed—and moving beyond just sharing to using this data to improve. This is why DQC has made sharing teacher performance data back with teacher preparation programs one of our four game changing priorities this year – we believe states can and should do this work this year.

One great example of using data to actively improve teacher preparation is the consortium, created by the Bush Foundation, of teacher preparation programs in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota that are committed to producing 25,000 better-prepared teachers in the next 10 years. These programs are looking at how they recruit teacher candidates, how they prepare them, and how they can offer support to teachers in the classroom to ensure they are best serving the children their graduates teach.

While it is excellent that we have the Bush Foundation project as a guide, it is important that the six states that are already sharing data with their teacher preparation programs engage in strong partnerships with those programs to create quality teacher education pipelines. (And states yet to tackle this work need to get with the program!) While there is some technical work to be done to make sure data are easily shared between agencies and institutions, what really matters is that all states engage in the important conversations necessary to move beyond just sharing data to using those data to grow a better-prepared teacher workforce.

Senator Frist is absolutely correct that we need to be able to track educators back to their preparation programs using data on student learning, among other data points. With new regulations the US Department of Education is putting out soon, all states will be expected to hold their teacher preparation programs accountable based on how their graduates do in the classroom. By having conversations that move beyond accountability and focus on collaboration, improvement, and the joint roles that agencies, institutions, and alternative preparation programs play in improving student learning, we will all move beyond compliance into better serving our teachers, their schools, and the kids they work with every day.