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Teacher Prep Review Finds Most Teacher Education Dismal

A new extensive report out by the National Council on Teacher Quality says that only four institutions of higher education in the United States out of 1,130 deserve the highest rating — four stars — in its evaluation of teacher education programs. Those four are Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, Ohio State University, and Furman University in South Carolina.

The ratings are available in a set of interactive programs on the NCTQ Web site, where visitors can review teacher preparation by state. The site also provides video segments that profile aspects of top teacher prep programs.

It should be noted that the four stars go to those institutions' secondary education training; no elementary education programs were awarded four stars. Only Ohio State earned more than three stars for both its elementary (3 1/2 stars) and secondary (4 stars) programs.

The critical ratings come out of NCTQ's "Teacher Prep Review" report, which has been in formation for eight years through 10 pilot studies, according to President Kate Walsh. The organization is publishing a portion of its results in U.S. News & World Report, which issues annual ratings lists of its own for various aspects of colleges and universities, such as best business schools.

That affiliation with the publishing company had an impact on the results, Walsh said. "The institutions quickly realizing the impact this might have put up strong resistance and didn't turn over course material to do this work. It resulted in [our] being able to provide a rating only on half the programs that were sampled."

"We are dealing with a profession that graduates 200,000 new teachers every year out of these programs that are in the review," Walsh said — twice as many as the country needs. "And more importantly, these folks go on to teach nearly a million and a half kids in their first year. That's the primary motivation in the review. If you look at how well kids do when assigned to a first year teacher, the learning loss is significant. We think with much better training we can achieve much better results."

What often happens, Walsh explained, is that first-year teachers are mostly likely to be assigned to the neediest students, frequently in school environments that have the biggest challenges, such as a disproportionate number of poor and minority children. "They can be very difficult environments in which to teach. They lose a lot of teachers. So it's even more necessary if we're going to close the achievement gap in this country that we get much more vigilant about the effectiveness of first-year teachers."

The rating took into consideration such aspects of teacher training at both elementary and secondary levels as:

  • Selection criteria for accepting a student into the program;
  • Coverage of early reading;
  • Coverage of Common Core mathematics and content;
  • Management and oversight of the student teaching experience;
  • Classroom management;
  • Lesson planning;
  • Assessment and data;
  • Equity;
  • Secondary methods;
  • Outcomes; and
  • Evidence of effectiveness.

The first four areas — selectivity, reading and math instruction, teaching experience, and content areas — were most strongly weighted in the analysis of the programs.

Walsh had severe words for institutions regarding how prospective candidates were chosen. "Unfortunately, it's far too easy in the United States to get into a teacher prep program," she said. "High-performing nations typically set the bar at about a third of all college students who are qualified to get into their programs. We set the bar quite a bit lower, at the halfway mark, and we still have three out of four programs failing. They're not adequately selected. This is not news to anyone. People often said the education school is often the easiest program to gain admittance to in your sophomore year. I don't think the American public realizes just how low the standards are for admission."

Level of rigor associated with content was another area of concern. "It is a travesty how low the expectations are for elementary teachers in their subject areas," Walsh stated. "We have gotten to the point where we allow elementary teachers to major in anything. Seventy percent [of education prep programs] do not require their elementary teachers to take a single science course. Presumably they have to teach science." That count is a little bit better at the high school level, she added. "Only a third are doing an adequate job across subject areas for high school teachers."

Reading preparation was the area where Walsh had perhaps the harshest criticism of most schools of education. "In this country 30 percent of all kids never become proficient readers. And why that is doubly tragic is we know from 50 years of research ... what it would take to get all but 5 percent of those children reading. We have the knowledge to do it," she said. "But we don't do that and the programs are not teaching reading. One would expect these programs to embrace that research knowledge to [develop] effective reading teachers.... Instead they are predominantly taught that they should develop their own approach to reading, that reading is a matter of personal philosophy. So three out of four programs do not meet our reading standards."

The review, running to 112 pages, provides excruciating detail about the efforts undertaken by NCTQ in obtaining the data it wanted for its evaluation process. The organization started by analyzing each program's coursework and reviewing university catalogs and other program material posted publicly by the institution. That was followed by requests to the institutions for materials such as syllabi for particular courses, information on graduate and employer surveys, and material related to student teaching placements.

Obtaining data about the training provided to teacher candidates has been a continual struggle — and continues to be so — primarily because many colleges and universities refused to participate. For many private and public schools, NCTQ was able to obtain some of the data it needed from students on campus. However, Walsh added, "In every single state, we had to submit [Freedom of Information Act] requests," in order to get information out of public schools. At that point, she said, the 475 resistant institutions would have one of three responses: They would turn over the materials; they would refuse to turn over the materials, often stating that content such as syllabi were the intellectual property of faculty; or they would try to charge as much as they "could get away with" in FOIA fees, hoping that NCTQ would back down.

Walsh said the Council would pay FOIA fees it "considered reasonable" — up to $400. She noted that some institutions tried to charge NCTQ as much as $30,000. In nine states, NCTQ hired attorneys to take legal action against the public institutions. In two states, Minnesota and Missouri, NCTQ took institutions to court, where one case is on appeal by the state and the other is about to go to trial.

NCTQ offered a number of recommendations and next steps for teacher candidates (such as use the ratings to decide where to apply), rated institutions (study the ratings and put together a plan of action for improving the teacher program), and policy makers (push for a higher candidate selection bar).

Next the organization will be announcing an agreement with a company that provides teacher tracking software to about 1,200 school districts in the country. The company will take NCTQ's findings and integrate them into its applicant ratings so that hiring districts can quickly identify which candidates went to the highest-rated programs.

The report concluded with advice to readers to examine those teaching programs that are most effective. "It is on these building blocks that the field can and must rebuild its foundation," the authors stated.

Added Walsh, "A lot of great teachers come out of ineffective programs." But too often, "good training happens by happenstance."

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