Ratings for teacher prep programs draw fire

June 18, 2013

An effort to rate the quality of teacher preparation programs around the country is drawing fire from local colleges of education. The National Council on Teacher Quality, which released a similar report on Illinois universities in fall 2010, panned a majority of the 1,100 programs it reviewed, saying they lacked important elements needed to train high-quality teachers.

“The results were dismal,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The review centered on criteria like course content and length, selectivity, and the quality of the student teaching experience.

“The quality of training in the U.S. for elementary math… is so far below international standards for training teachers as to be a grave, grave concern,” Walsh added.

Overall, not one elementary education program in the U.S. earned the highest-possible rating of four stars, and just 20 earned at least three stars. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education issued a statement blasting the report, saying it is "based on a review of documents with such inconsistent participation and fragmented inputs that it would not be published by a credible, professional research organization."

Yet the review also raises concerns about whether teachers have enough content knowledge to teach to the Common Core State Standards. Using measures like the number of subject matter courses students are required to take and their incoming standardized test scores, the review asserts that just one in nine elementary education programs ensure that students know the material they’ll need to teach.

Another issue it found was a lack of safeguards to ensure the teachers who work with student-teachers are master practitioners. “When a student teacher has a great experience, it’s primarily because they lucked out,” Walsh said. Schools “simply say we’ll take anyone a school district might offer, as long as they have three years of experience.”

Illinois’ schools of education did better in some areas and worse in others. Three-fourths of the state’s programs were as selective as the review’s standards called for.

But just 6 percent of Illinois programs, versus 19 percent nationwide, had strong elementary math components. Just 8 percent of the state’s programs were met criteria for classroom management, compared to 23 percent nationwide.

And just 4 percent met NCTQ’s standards for secondary content-area preparation, compared with 35 percent nationwide – likely because of differences in state requirements.

Programs not happy

Vicki Chou, dean of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s College of Education, said that “the whole exercise was an enormous waste of money, time, (and) resources.”

She added: “The universities are doing excellent work trying to prepare good teachers. It’s discouraging that these distractions come up.”

Southern Illinois University’s Acting Director of Teacher Education, Kelly Glassett, notes that a number of schools of education decided not to participate in the review.

As a result, the findings note that some of the ratings are based on information that NCTQ collected in 2010, and may be out of date. In other cases, “they counted zeroes because we didn’t give them any data,” Glassett says.

And, he points out, schools of education are now in the middle of revamping their curricula to meet new state requirements – among them, including more emphasis on reading instruction, an area where many programs nationwide lost points.

He was also concerned about the ratings’ focus on just five elements of effective reading instruction, saying it could lead to prospective missing out on the larger context of how, for instance, a child’s exposure to language at home affects their reading development.

Perry Schoon, dean of Illinois State University’s College of Education, says that his school sent NCTQ the information they asked for.

“Their approach was very thin, with sweeping conclusions,” he said. “We completely disagree with the inaccurate assessment and the rankings. We don’t believe they can draw the conclusion they did from the information they had.”

Illinois universities were rated as “not applicable” for program effectiveness because the state doesn’t yet publish data on ties between teacher preparation programs and student achievement. But, he noted, many universities keep their own data on effectiveness and improvement.

Rationale for ratings

Walsh, on the other hand, said that schools of education “believe that their charge is to prepare a teacher who will have the professional disposition, the confidence…. to come up with their own system for teaching children, for managing children.”

This, she asserted, leads to too little “imparting specific knowledge and skills that will allow a teacher to be ready to teach on day one.”

She also blamed academic freedom, the tradition of professors being allowed to choose their own course content, for teacher preparation’s challenges.

“There were 866 textbooks that were used to teach readers how to teach reading. You wouldn’t find that in any other field,” Walsh said.

She admitted that the ratings were “not a deep review.”

“There’s a lot of really great teachers who come out of weak programs. The wrong message for you to get today is that an institution is turning out bad teachers if it gets low rankings from us,” Walsh said.