National survey of colleges of education deeply flawed, incomplete

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 11, 2013 

Imagine a new restaurant comes into town. Its goal is to lure away customers who visit existing restaurants in the community. To achieve this goal, they gather the menus of each restaurant. Based nearly exclusively on these menus, they develop a rating scale critical of each restaurant, which is subsequently published in the local newspaper. The casual reader of this newspaper might be swayed by the rating scale and wonder what's occurring in those restaurants. The critical reader would speculate about the motives of the new restaurant, would question the use of the menu as the nearly exclusive source of the ratings, would wonder why the food wasn't tasted or former customers interviewed, and would marvel that any newspaper would even publish these restaurant ratings.

Such is the case in a new report produced by the National Center for Teacher Quality whose results were published recently in U.S. News and World Report. The report focused on the quality of new teacher preparation at over 1,100 colleges of education in the U.S. The report has been criticized for many of the same reasons that the critical reader would be concerned about the restaurant ratings. National Center for Teacher Quality is hardly an unbiased, independent organization given that individuals who are associated with it have either explicitly called for the closure of colleges of education or who operate alternative programs to teacher education.

The data collected from colleges of education, many of which refused to participate given the biased nature of the organization, primarily consisted of course catalog descriptions along with course outlines. No effort was made to interview students or faculty in the programs, to interview graduates or the principals at schools where they are employed, or even to look at what the students these teachers work with are learning.

It's quite curious that U.S. News and World Report would find it worthwhile to publish this report.

At Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University we recognized that so much of what we do, who we are, and what we're about, was not included in the report.

Consider that we were given no rating for preparation of our elementary education students for math. Yet our students are required to take three math methods courses from the math department (whose course outlines were not collected) to ensure strong math content. In fact, our student teachers have some of the highest math content knowledge, as measured by a standardized test, among all colleges of education in the state. As yet another example, we were given no rating on preparing students for early literacy or to effectively educate English language learners. Yet, nearly half of our elementary education students get a degree that includes either a reading endorsement and/or an endorsement in English as a Second Language.

Rather than bemoan the poor, biased quality of the report (for a more thorough description of the flaws of this report, read Stanford University Professor Linda DarlingHammond's article, June 18, in the Washington Post), we share the following about the preparation of the next generation of teachers in Wooding College of Education.

First, we aspire to and have met all the national and state standards for colleges of education. For these reviews, we provide extensive documentation and education professionals come to campus to interview faculty, students, teachers, and principals about the quality of our teacher education program. The focus of these reviews is not what we teach but what our teacher education students learn!

Second, we are actively working to respond to the needs of the profession, including a strong focus on math and science content, a commitment to diversifying the profession, and a new alternate route into teaching.

Third, we are advancing new initiatives to strengthen our relationship with local schools. We recognize that the quality of education occurring in local schools is an important responsibility for our college of education, and is strengthened by mutually beneficial partnerships.

Finally, our students are fully prepared to enter classrooms via a range of demanding requirements, from grade point average requirements, course completion, practicums and internships, at least two standardized assessments and one (new) national performance assessment scored by specially trained teachers. At end, I would invite you to learn more about what the College of Education at Western is doing to prepare quality teachers and data we value to spur our continual improvement. Better yet, ask one of our recent graduates - or a principal or superintendent who has employed our students - about the quality of preparation they have received.

That is, after all, the taste test that matters most.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Francisco Rios is dean of Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.

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