US teacher education barely gets a passing grade

The News TribuneJune 24, 2013 

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Check out how Washington’s teacher education programs fared by going online at tinyurl.com/lbpsspm.

If the National Council of Teacher Quality were giving out an overall grade to America’s teacher-education programs, it probably would be about a D.

“An industry of mediocrity” is how the nonprofit advocacy group described the vast majority of the 1,430 programs that are supposed to prepare graduates to teach in the nation’s K-12 schools. Too many have weak admission standards for prospective teachers, fail to teach effective classroom management skills and don’t require that students master the content they plan to teach.

“A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars,” the report said.

The NCTQ — which advocates for education reform by providing “an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations” — performed the first-ever ranking of teacher-education programs with funding from a number of major foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

The study, predictably, has drawn fire from teacher organizations and schools that didn’t fare well. (Many of those schools had refused to provide information on their programs for the study.) But it has its supporters as well, including the League of Education Voters and the school superintendents in Tacoma and Federal Way, Carla Santorno and Robert Neu, respectively.

In its rankings, in which the NCTQ gave schools one to four stars, only four schools earned the top score: Ohio State University, Furman University (S.C.), and Lipscomb and Vanderbilt universities in Tennessee.

Washington’s public universities didn’t fare well, with only one program getting a three-star ranking (Washington State University’s undergraduate secondary program). The private universities, with the exception of Northwest University in Kirkland, did not provide enough information for ratings purposes and could not be compelled to by open records requests.

Nationwide, 163 schools were ranked so poorly that they were flagged with a “consumer alert,” meaning they earned no stars. Unfortunately, the University of Washington Tacoma and Bothell were among them for their graduate secondary programs.

There’s wide consensus that teacher quality is a key factor in student success. What does it say when only a quarter of teacher-education programs limit admission to students in the top half of their high school graduating classes? When 75 percent don’t train students to teach reading based on the latest research? If teachers aren’t learning the best ways to teach, how on earth can students be expected to excel?

Of course, one report isn’t the whole story on teacher education. But parents should hope that this one by the NCTQ — which apparently will provide an annual ranking — should at least get school administrators’ attention and prompt some meaningful conversations on how to improve their programs.

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