The Legislative Finance Committee took up the topic of improving teacher and school leadership preparation today during its hearing at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and got expert advice from Harvard.

Via videocast, Thomas Kane from the Harvard Graduate School of Education showed research that stressed clinical experience, or actual experience in the classroom, as mattering most when measuring teacher effectiveness. He also suggested that teacher tenure after a three-year probation period should not be granted automatically, stressed teaching practical skills more than theory and applauded an annual report on effectiveness from recent graduates from each College of Education.

New Mexico Secretary of Public Education Hanna Skandera and NMSU President Garrey Carruthers briefed the committee on recommendations from a teacher prep working group of cabinet secretaries, regents, college presidents and provosts that will raise requirements, eliminate barriers and provide report cards for colleges of education statewide.

Kane wants the state to also consider having teacher candidates be evaluated by professors from education programs other than their own. He suggested redesigning the student teaching experience to focus on practical skills and implementing a policy that weeds out prospective teachers who clearly are not cut out for the job.

Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort (R-Sandia Park) agreed that the state’s colleges of education need to transition to more effective ways to prepare teachers. Rep. Mary Helen Garcia (D-Las Cruces) argued that attention be paid to reading skills in New Mexico with its significant population of English language learners. Rep. Jim Smith (R-Sandia Park) remembered that student teaching “stinks for the most part” and wondered how colleges of education will assure a good experience. Sen. Howie Morales (D-Silver City) took Skandera to task for announcing an annual report card for colleges of education without having details on how they will be ranked and also making available $4.6 million in competitive grants based on pre-conceived PED criteria with no opportunity for creativity.

Next week, UNM will continue the conversation in Santa Fe, presenting to the Legislative Education Study Committee on turning around leadership at low performing schools, as well as timely degree completion.