Early childhood programs dispute low ratings on teacher prep

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The National Council on Teacher Quality recently issued a report
evaluating teacher education programs in Illinois. The vast majority
received poor rankings. But nowhere were the ratings more abysmal than
among the six early-childhood education programs listed in the report.

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently issued a report evaluating teacher education programs in Illinois. The vast majority received poor rankings. But nowhere were the ratings more abysmal than among the six early-childhood education programs listed in the report.

Two of the undergraduate programs – Columbia College Chicago and Kendall College – were rated as weak. One, Dominican Unversity, was rated as failed. Of the graduate programs, those offered by Dominican, DePaul University, and the highly respected Erikson Institute were all labeled failures.

The schools lost points in many areas, including reading and math instruction, selectivity of admissions, and teachers’ content knowledge. But many of the universities that received the low ratings are questioning their accuracy.

Gayle Mindes, professor of education and early childhood program leader at DePaul University, takes issue with the report’s statement that her program “does not require any preparation on reading instruction at all” for graduate students in early childhood education.

Mindes says her program was penalized for integrating concepts throughout its curriculum, rather than covering them all at once in one class. “We address literacy in multiple classes – it’s part of the language development class, it’s part of the curriculum class, it’s part of the family literacy and early literacy class,” Mindes says. “The idea that we don’t teach candidates how to teach reading is not accurate.”

Marilyn Ludolph, associate dean of Dominican’s School of Education, says that the reading methods textbook used in the school’s early childhood program even refers to the five components of effective reading instruction mentioned in the standards the NCTQ used to evaluate literacy textbooks.

“I have never been clear as to why they didn’t like the book,” Ludolph says.

Kate Walsh, the president of the group that prepared the report, says that the programs generally did not place enough emphasis on teaching children the mechanics of reading and decoding words, or on spoken language.

“Especially with children who come from high poverty, it is crucial that you understand the importance of getting them to understand the different sounds in spoken language,” Walsh says. “Any good pre-K would emphasize the importance of rhyming. We saw instead an assumption that one could learn how to read through play.”

Ava Belisle-Chatterjee, chair of the education department at Columbia College Chicago, says that the reading instruction strategies that the report identifies are solid.

“I don’t think anyone can argue with learning how to decode,” she says. “But in the end you want children to feel motivated to put those skills to work, to read for a reason.”

She adds: “Play is an essential part of making sense of the world. Of course we believe everything else needs to be in place, but I wonder if they are just focusing on something whose role they don’t understand.”

Walsh also says that with Common Core standards coming to Illinois, it is important for teachers to be broadly educated. “They are not making sure these teachers are prepared to teach Illinois curriculum,” Walsh says.

Many graduate programs – which are primarily composed of methods classes – lost points over this issue, but undergraduate programs did as well.

Colleen Reardon, dean of the School of Education at Dominican, questions Walsh’s assessment. Her school, she notes, was penalized partly because it doesn’t require classes in music and art history.

“We have a very strong core curriculum,” Reardon says. “I’m not sure I saw their list as any more relevant to early childhood education than what we provide.”

Reardon thinks one critique could be valid. “It’s worth looking at whether or not it would be logical to separate out math methods from other methods courses,” she says. Currently, the school teaches math, social studies, and science methods together in one class.

Analysts with the Schools of Education Learning Collaborative at Eduventures, a private higher education research and consulting firm, wrote a review of the NCTQ’s methodology claiming that the ratings were “significantly flawed.”

“Rather than providing evidence, the rationale NCTQ provides for many standards appears to be opinion-based… In some cases, the rationale includes broad generalizations that many experts would recognize as untrue,” the review states.

Mindes says that schools of education take the approach of exposing teacher candidates to many different methods, rather than focusing narrowly on some, as the report’s standards advocate.

“Preparing teachers is a complicated endeavor,” Mindes says. “We are in the business of trying to help our candidates have a background of multiple perspectives and multiple approaches so that they can be equipped when they hit a diverse classroom.”

Evaluations of ed schools with early-childhood programs:

Columbia College Chicago

DePaul University

Dominican University

Erikson Institute

Kendall College