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Report: US teacher training programs are mediocre

Student Mariatou Samou, left, speaks with her teacher, Kayla Morrow. Teacher preparation programs do not adequately prepare new teachers like Morrow for the rigors of the classroom, according to a new report from the National Coalition of Teacher Quality.
Student Mariatou Samou, left, speaks with her teacher, Kayla Morrow. Teacher preparation programs do not adequately prepare new teachers like Morrow for the rigors of the classroom, according to a new report from the National Coalition of Teacher Quality.
Patrick Semansky, AP

The vast majority of American colleges are doing a poor job of training future teachers, according to a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality. While many experts agree, others say the report and its research are flawed and that the findings show an inaccurate picture.

Teacher preparation programs have become an “industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity,” according to the NCTQ report. And this may be part of the reason American students lag behind their peers on international assessments.

Critics suggest the report is unreliable because the research is incomplete and inaccurate. Though they agree that teacher preparation is critical for the success of our nation’s education system, they argue the metrics used by NCTQ aren’t sufficient to determine which programs are successful.

The report

According to the report, nearly 80 percent of the 1,130 programs surveyed received two or fewer stars on a four-star scale. More than 150 programs received no stars at all.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a conservative, Washington-based advocacy group, ranked teacher preparation programs according to four criteria: admissions standards, content area course requirements, high-quality clinical experiences, and data collection on the quality of graduates.

The report found that only 10 percent of the programs in the study earned a passing grade, and only four institutions earned the highest grade of four stars: Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Furman University.

The report also showed that only about 25 percent of the programs limited admissions to the top half of their class; the highest performing countries typically limit admissions to the top third. Fewer than one in nine programs prepare candidates with the content knowledge to teach the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 45 states. Most programs fail to provide elementary teachers with the most effective reading education techniques. And only 7 percent of the programs provide uniformly high-quality student teaching experiences.

The critics

But according to Michael J. Feuer, Dean of the George Washington Graduate School of Education, the methods used in the report are inadequate. “The report relies heavily on intuition about these issues (but) our children’s education deserves better,” he said. There is a well-documented gap between what appears on a syllabus and what students actually learn in their classes, Feuer said.

This failure to look at what was actually being taught angered many of the teachers being evaluated. “NCTQ didn’t visit with students, ask employers about the quality of those they hire or gather any sort of impact data to substantiate their claims,” said Rick Ginsberg, Dean of the University of Kansas School of Education. “Instead they created some standards and decided how each institution did or did not meet their requirements.”

There are also questions about what evidence was used to rank the programs. The NCTQ report states that only 10 percent of the schools provided the requested data. “There is no explanation of how institutions that did not provide the data were treated,” wrote Feuer. At George Washington University, for example, administrators declined to participate and were given zero out of four stars. “What did the NCTQ use to rate our programs and how did they obtain those data?” Feuer asked.

The lack of participation by many programs may have led to inaccurate data. Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University, claims to have found numerous errors in the report. For example, Darling-Hammond was surprised to find that Columbia University received poor marks for its teacher preparation program. However, no such program exists at the school. When notified about the error, NCTQ responded that the school offers a minor in “Urban Teaching track childhood education.” Columbia administrators insist they have no such program, though there is one at neighbouring Barnard College.

Darling-Hammond also found errors with the NCTQ’s evaluation of the program at the University of California at Santa Barbara. UCSB was given a low rank in part because its elementary math courses failed to meet standards. But Darling-Hammond insists that NCTQ evaluators either missed the courses or rated them erroneously. “Their ratings are not plausible when the details of the [courses] are known,” she said.

An issue worth exploring

While many experts are not impressed with the substance of the NCQT report, they tend to agree that education preparation programs in this country need improvement.

"While I have seen many strong teacher education programs, there are many others that are very weak and need major improvements," said Darling-Hammond. She also acknowledged that the areas NCTQ rated are important areas of focus.

Fueur agrees, but cautions that more work needs to be done to create a better method for grading the programs: "Evaluation of teacher education is at least as complex as the evaluation of teaching and is worthy of the best and most rigorous methods. Reports like this one trivialize the task and undermine efforts to ensure that our future teachers acquire the skills and knowledge needed for the lives in classrooms. There is surely room for improvement in the world of teacher preparation — as there is in all professions — but the NCTQ report provides an inadequate basis upon which to design and implement positive reforms."