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June 24, 2013 at 8:51 AM
Teacher training programs: the good, the bad and the useless
A highly-anticipated national rating of teacher training programs has landed with a thud, as this Seattle Times editorial noted. Anytime a sacred cow is caught in the crosshairs, the debate shifts to the messenger rather than the message. That explains why the National Council on Teacher Quality is now on the defensive following its attempt to rate higher education on how well it prepares teachers for the classroom. The goal was to help aspiring teachers and school systems figure out which universities to do business with. The institutions were evaluated on 18 standards, using a four-star rating system.
NCTQ points out that more than 20 state superintendents, 82 school superintendents and 50 education, children and business and civil rights advocacy groups across 38 states have announced their support of the review. Response from teacher training programs ranged from measured disagreement at the University of Washington, which oddly received very low marks. (I say oddly because the program is quite well regarded.) Washington State University received the state’s only three-star rating. From what I know WSU has an excellent program, but what makes it so far above the UW is worthwhile reading in the report.
So is the NCTQ report the new teacher training bible or an inaccurate punch from the accountability police?
Let’s agree at the outset that ratings done by people who have not seen the thing they’re rating in action only goes so far. Course content is important in evauating schools, but so is the effectiveness of students as they move into their professional. The ratings did not look at what happens to teachers after graduation. A significant measure of success is whether students successfully complete a program and go onto meaningful employment. But that was not examined.
The effort is not without value. It raises important questions, for example, whether or not graduate teacher preparation programs are too easy to get into as compared to other graduate programs. The analysis found that 70% of undergraduate elementary programs do not require prospective teachers to take science. A third important consideration is whether the programs are training teachers to teacher scientifically-proven methods of instruction. The report found that at least in reading, that was not the case for three out of four programs training elementary school teachers.
Washington state received a D earlier in the year for overall quality of its teacher preparation programs. The year before, the council gave Washington a C-. So what is our state doing, or not doing? Read the report. It is nuanced and not easily dismissed or touted as the end all be all statement about teacher quality.