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Effectiveness of teacher preparation under scrutiny

NCTQ’s rankings of teacher preparation programs have generated much debate

teacher-evaluation-effectivenessI honestly can’t remember a single lesson that really stuck out to me in Ms. Leslie’s first grade class. In fact, I barely remember sitting down at my desk for anything school related.

What I do remember is that something about her teaching inspired me to write incessantly that summer, which led to years of amateur writing and eventually studying journalism.

Years later, I can tell she was a great teacher. But what would today’s systems of teacher evaluation say about her performance?

Current attempts to measure teacher quality have resulted in controversy, and a ranking of teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality is one example. The organization’s 2014 Teacher Prep Review, released in June, evaluated and ranked more than 1,000 teacher preparation programs and has garnered mixed reviews.

(Next page: What critics say about NCTQ’s rankings—and how the organization responds)

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) sees the ranking system as “a divisive tactic that mostly serves to pit institutions against one another,” according to a statement. Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., president and CEO of AACTE, said that only 118 of the 1,127 institutions that were reviewed fully participated in the report.

“Even ‘full participation,’ however, resulted in little more than a document review—hardly adequate evidence to judge graduates’ readiness to teach,” said Robinson in the statement.

NCTQ evaluators requested documentation from higher-ed institutions and used open-source material to assess whether institutions offered instruction that fulfills both state and national standards. The organization’s methodology includes an institution’s selection criteria for students, classroom management, lesson planning, student teaching, and evidence of effectiveness, among other criteria.

“Our goal is to ultimately strengthen the field,” said Arthur McKee, managing director of teacher preparation studies. “We want to see teacher preparation programs do well, because if they do well, more teachers will be more effective.”

AACTE proposes a different approach to evaluating teacher prep. The organization collaborated with Stanford University on a project called edTPA, a subject-specific assessment system that applies state and national standards to guide teachers and administrators in developing curriculum and practice for preparing future teachers. Instead of rating or ranking schools, the assessment focuses on having teachers demonstrate what they know. The project’s website became fully operational in 2013, and there are 529 education preparation programs in 34 states and the District of Columbia participating in edTPA, according to its website.

Dana Tofig, director of communications for the Montgomery County School District in Maryland, says the district doesn’t reference teacher prep rankings when evaluating potential hires.

“Rankings have to be considered in light of the formulas they are looking at,” said Tofig. “We do look if they went to a strong teacher prep program, but it isn’t all that we look at.”

He says teacher prep programs are important, but so, too, is the professional development that teachers receive after graduating.

“You want to have teachers who got the necessary preparation in college,” said Tofig. “It is equally important that the school district invests in their professional growth.”

Some teacher prep schools have questioned NCTQ’s methodology. The organization says it remains in contact with the schools that are evaluated and works with them to improve.

“We are actively reaching out to teacher preparation programs to help them understand our standards better, and we’re seeing much better dialogue going forward,” said McKee.

Though the evaluation doesn’t explicitly address the use of technology in education, the top-ranked secondary school teacher prep program at Western Governors University is online.

“It shows that our standards can apply to new approaches to teacher training. This is a program that takes teacher training seriously and is delivering it in an online platform,” said McKee.

With more technology being used in schools, McKee says there are more data available on how students are doing, which helps teachers and organizations better assess the effectiveness of certain instruction.

As more organizations and policy makers shed light on the topic of teacher quality, the hope is that there will be more reform. Since the first NCTQ report on teacher preparation programs, 33 states have made changes in education policy.

“The basic finding is the field has a long way to go, but we are seeing some movement and seeing institutions, like the top ranked, that are making an effort,” said McKee.

Do you consult ratings systems like NCTQ’s system or edTPA in your district? What is most important to you about teacher preparation? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.

For more info, please visit these reflection videos for edTPA.

Lisa Driscoll is an editorial intern at eSchool News.

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