Report: Most teacher ed programs are substandard

jstancill@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

  • Teacher education programs

    The National Council on Teacher Quality reviewed data for 36 North Carolina colleges and universities that prepare teachers, and gave star ratings to 18 of them, using a scale of zero to four stars.

    Most received one or two stars. Catawba College, Fayetteville State, Greensboro College and UNC Pembroke all had one program with less than one star, prompting a consumer warning from the group.

    Here are the ratings for Triangle programs the group ranked.

    N.C. State University

    Elementary education (undergraduate)2 stars

    Secondary education (undergraduate)2 stars

    Elementary education (graduate)1.5 stars

    Secondary education (graduate)1 star

    UNC-Chapel Hill

    Elementary education (undergraduate)2 stars

    Secondary education (undergraduate)1.5 stars

    Secondary education (graduate)3.5 stars

Teacher education in the nation’s universities is “an industry of mediocrity,” says a new report that rates hundreds of programs and gives less than 10 percent a favorable grade.

The “Teacher Prep Review” from the National Council on Teacher Quality prompted widespread attention in the education world and scorn from universities who were the target of the ranking. The report looked at data from 1,100 universities and assigned star ratings to 608 of them, concluding that most are failing.

The review gave only four programs in the United States its highest ranking of four stars. Only 20 elementary programs and 84 secondary programs made the report’s “honor roll” of at least three stars.

It looked at data for 36 programs in North Carolina and rated 18 of them. Among them, only one – a graduate program in secondary education at UNC-Chapel Hill – made the report’s honor roll. Most received one or two stars. Those with less than one star were labeled with an exclamation-point consumer warning alert.

“The results were dismal,” Kate Walsh, president of the council, said in a conference call with reporters.

Walsh painted a negative picture of education schools in the United States, which turn out an estimated 200,000 graduates annually. She said U.S. programs fail to give students enough practical skills to manage classrooms. The quality of math training for elementary teachers is of “grave, grave concern,” Walsh said, while a lack of consensus on reading instruction has left budding teachers fumbling around to find their own approach.

And, she said, it’s too easy to get into U.S. education schools. Twenty-eight percent of programs nationwide and 31 percent in North Carolina restrict entry to students in the top half of their class, compared to the highest-performing countries which bar admission to all but the top one-third.

“I don’t think the American public realizes just how low the standards are for admission,” Walsh said.

The report, the first of its kind, was touted as a consumer’s guide akin to the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. The magazine published the National Council of Teacher Quality ranking, which will be repeated annually, according to the council, whose website refers to it as a bipartisan group whose members “believe that the teaching profession is way overdue for significant reform in how we recruit, prepare, retain and compensate teachers.”

The group sued universities in several states to gain access to data after the colleges refused to hand it over. It looked at selection criteria, subject area preparation, practice teaching and institutional outcomes. It reviewed course syllabi, textbooks and policies but did not make site visits to the schools.

Some education leaders were quick to dismiss the ranking and the organization that produced it. A Stanford University professor wrote a critique, pointing out errors in the data and flaws in the methodology. Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and former assistant education secretary under the first President Bush, has written that the council was formed “to break the power of the hated ed schools.”

Bill McDiarmid, dean of UNC-CH’s School of Education, said the ranking makes broad conclusions from paper reviews.

“My major concern about it is not that there are people who are critical of teacher education,” McDiarmid said. “People have been critical of teacher education for 150 years. … They haven’t seen how teachers perform in the classroom. They haven’t seen any evidence about the effect that it’s having on student learning.”

McDiarmid said he had no problem with the council’s standards but said the education field has moved beyond determining quality through superficial methods.

The UNC system, for example, has a teacher-quality project that tracks the performance of students in classrooms taught by teachers trained at UNC campuses.

Several universities in North Carolina, including UNC-CH, East Carolina University and Winston-Salem State University, started using a measurement called edTPA, which McDiarmid described as a mini-version of National Board Certification for teachers. Student teachers have to make a video of themselves teaching and collect student work, testing results, lesson plans and analysis of the data. All of this points to the quality of the student teacher’s performance, he said.

“There are a number of us who want to keep pushing us forward, want to push on the idea that we’ve got to have good evidence, reliable valid evidence, of how our students and graduates are performing in the classroom,” he said.

Alisa Chapman, the UNC system’s vice president for academic and university programs, said the system does a whole range of analysis of teacher quality, including student performance, program effectiveness studies of each campus and a detailed look at the makeup of the state’s teaching workforce. UNC data shows that UNC-trained teachers perform better and teach in the state longer than those trained outside the state, Chapman said.

The UNC system is in the second year of a support program that is providing additional training for 550 new teachers in 20 school districts. The program is based on the best practices from the highly regarded Teach for America program. It will also be used to gather feedback from the new teachers on their preparation in order to improve teacher education, Chapman said.

“For North Carolina, we’re fortunate in that this is a state that has rich data sources,” she said.

Those kinds of outcome measures are better than Tuesday’s ranking, she said, but acknowledged that the report would shine a spotlight on a critical topic.

“What the report does is it helps to focus us on one of the most important issues we could be focused on in North Carolina and nationally, which is teacher quality,” she said.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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