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Report Gives Teacher Training Programs Low Marks

A new rating of programs which train teachers is creating a stir.  The review by the National Council on Teacher Quality finds most college and university education departments have become what it calls “an industry of mediocrity.”  U.S. News and World Report published the ratings this week.   They’re generating a lot of criticism and not just from schools which scored poorly. 

The review comes down hard on college and university teacher training programs.  Less than 10 percent of the 1,130 rated received decent scores.  Arthur McKee, who was in charge of the study, says that’s alarming when you think of the hundreds of thousands of students who depend on first year teachers. 

“You want to make sure that people are thoroughly trained before they take responsibility for a classroom,” says McKee.  “While we are finding examples of programs taking it seriously, we find too many leaving it up to chance.” 

By that, he means schools aren’t selective enough in who they admit to their teacher training programs.  They’re not requiring enough classes in the subject matter a student plans to teach.  They’re leaving students to come up with their own methods of teaching reading and they’re not making sure student teachers are matched with good teachers. 

“Consumers are going to know which programs are doing well and make choices on that basis.  And that’s going to catch the attention of administrators who ask, ‘How is it we make sure we get more folks in the door as candidates and how do we make sure our candidates are going to get hired?’” says McKee. 

It is catching the attention of school administrators.  North Carolina didn’t fare so badly compared to other states, but still most colleges and universities did not get more than two out of four stars.  UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate program ranked high.

“I don’t take any particular pride in it because I don’t put a lot of faith in this rating system,” says Bill McDiarmid, the dean of Chapel Hill’s school of education. 

He knew the report was coming.  It’s been the talk among schools with teacher training programs for awhile.  Many of them resisted turning over information the National Council on Teacher Quality requested.   

“To be honest, I didn’t want anyone wasting their time on this because we won’t learn anything from this,” says McDiarmid. 

That’s because he says the rankings relied on just a checklist of syllabuses, curriculum, and textbooks, not on data or other feedback tracking how their graduates actually perform in the classroom.

But McKee says it is fair to judge schools on their course materials.  He maintains it’s a big oversight if a curriculum doesn’t mention basic teaching concepts. 

“We’re just trying to find out: Are they teaching phonics, for example? Are they teaching comprehension in their reading course?  Those questions we can ask and answer,” says McKee.  

The National Council on Teacher Quality has been around for thirteen years.  Its funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. 

UNC Charlotte received one to 2.5 stars for its different training programs.  Catawba College is among the worst, if you believe the study.  The school’s education dean, Jim Stringfield thinks the group is unfair in its methods. 

“If you want to know the quality of teacher education at Catawba College, come and visit us.  Talk to our students, our graduates, talk to the principals, NCTQ unfortunately did none of that,” says Stringfield. 

He says if the group had, it would have found that some of the report’s assumptions about Catawba are wrong.  For example, the review says there’s no science requirement.  Not true, according to Stringfield.  It also says the school doesn’t track students after graduation.  Again, not true, Stringfield says.

The commotion over the ratings likely won’t die down any time soon.  Colleges and universities are watching to see how policy makers, potential students, and school districts respond to the report.  The National Council on Teacher Quality expects to release the ratings every year. 

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.