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Report: Teacher preparation programs an ‘industry of mediocrity’

A new report–already proving divisive hours within of its release–claims that, based on eight years of research, U.S. teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are broken, directly affecting “America’s educational decline.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) says it went through 10 pilot studies to develop the standards used to rank the 1,130 teacher preparation institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally-trained new teachers (approximately 170,000 novice teachers annually).

NCTQ officials said the effort was inspired by a study conducted more than a century ago, the Flexner Report of 1910, which evaluated the nation’s medical schools and led to consolidations and upgrades that “transformed the system of training doctors into the world’s best,” states the report.

The goal appears to be the same for NCTQ’s review, which aims to use the data it collected—sometimes having to sue institutions to get access—to set in place “market forces that will spur underachieving [education] programs to recognize their shortcomings and adopt methods used by the high scorers.”

(Next page: Rankings and findings)

New teachers “don’t know how to teach reading, don’t know how to master a classroom, and don’t know how to use data,” said NCTQ President Kate Walsh in a statement. “The results were dismal.”

For example, NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review found that:

  • Less than 10 percent of programs earn three stars or more on a four-star rating scale, many earning no stars at all.
  • A large majority of programs (71 percent) do not provide elementary teacher candidates with research-based training in reading instruction methods that could reduce the current rate of reading failure (30 percent) to less than 10 percent of the student population.
  • Just more than a quarter of programs restrict admissions to students in the top half of their class, compared with the highest-performing education countries, which limit entry to the top third.
  • Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just more than one-third of high school programs prepare candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
  • Almost all programs (93 percent) fail to ensure a high quality student teaching experience, where candidates are assigned only to highly skilled teachers and must receive frequent concrete feedback.
  • Only 23 percent of rated programs do enough to provide teacher candidates with concrete classroom management strategies to improve classroom behavior problems.
  • Only 11 percent of elementary programs and 47 percent of secondary programs provide adequate content preparation for teachers in the subjects they will teach.

To see the ranking list, visit

(Next page: Backlash and support)

Mixed feelings

NCTQ’s standards used to collect the data and rank teacher preparation programs focus mainly on admissions; student course selection for their specific subject they will be teaching; hands-on experience in classroom management; and syllabi, textbooks, and types of training offered.

However, not all in the education field are accepting these standards with open arms, especially because the review did not “typically evaluate the quality of teaching within the training program or the success graduates may have had in the classroom,” noted Reuters.

“Our members feel like they’ve been strong-armed,” said Stephanie Giesecke, director at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, in a statement to Reuters. “These are not valid ways of rating our programs.”

“It’s disappointing that for something as important as strengthening teacher preparation programs, NCTQ chose to use the gimmick of a four-star rating system without using professionally accepted standards, visiting any of the institutions or talking with any of the graduates,” said the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in a statement.

Though the AFT said it agrees that some areas of teacher prep programs need attention and improvement, the group said it would prefer to collaborate on professional ownership of, and solutions to, these problems instead of “talking about a punitive approach to shame and blame institutions.”

Yet, many education leaders are heralding the review’s findings as a much-needed call to action, which can also serve as a consumer guide for aspiring teachers.

“Teachers deserve better support and better training than teachers’ colleges today provide, and school districts should be able to make well-informed hiring choices,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the Wall Street Journal.

And some institutions that were not highly ranked took their ranking as a learning experience.

“I think what NCTQ points out is that we are probably under-equipping teachers going into classrooms,” said David Chard, dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. “We did not fare as well on this review. We need to do a better job of communicating both with our students and NCTQ where our content can be found. In some cases, we have some work to do.”

Not all bad

Though many teacher prep institutions didn’t get close to four stars, Lipscomb and Vanderbilt University (both Tenn.), as well as Ohio State University and Furman University (S.C.) all received four stars.

NCTQ’s blog is currently highlighting videos of four-star institution teacher preparation programs, giving an inside look into what makes them successful.

“It’s programs like these that aspiring teachers should strongly think about applying to and that districts should look to recruit from,” said NCTQ. “And it’s programs like these that can serve as models for the field as a whole.”

Ohio State University

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