NCTQ: Teaching Quality is about more than a syllabus.

Today, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report highlighting findings from an evaluation of teacher preparation programs across the U.S. They tout on their website about the “unprecedented” nature of this evaluation, and how we now finally know that teacher preparation programs are at least partially to blame for the failings of our schools.

While the methodology of this report is questionable at best, since it’s release at 12:01am today, it has garnered significant mainstream airtime. Therefore, the word is getting out that “Colleges of Education are failing”.

Just what corporate reformers want people to believe.

Twitter is swirling with news about the report — from those that believe it in its entirety, and those who see no value in it whatsoever.

I tend to sit closer to the side who sees no/little value — mostly because I believe that research methodology must not only be transparent, but valid and reliable. However, I do see some key points that must be explored further.

1. Higher admissions standards.

I agree with the report, teacher preparation programs must require higher admissions standards for candidates. Like many of our international competitors, we too should accept only the best and the brightest into our professional training program. Of course, it should be noted that NCTQ did not develop this finding for the first time — this has been repeated for years.

But, while this seems like an easily remedied issue, teacher preparation programs do not always make these decisions. The larger university community must agree to — and sign off on — higher admissions standards for teacher preparation programs, and they must do so with the understanding that higher admissions will likely mean fewer students and therefore less dollars generated through tuition and fees. Likewise, if the public wants only the best and the brightest to enter the teaching profession, then they must be willing to pay the best and the brightest to stay in the teaching profession.

2. Need for prerequisites.

Again, I agree with the report. Prerequisites for candidates of teacher preparation programs is a worthy consideration. Focusing their pre-education coursework on English, Science, Math, and Social Studies content that provides the foundation for the content they will teach is essential. Colleges of Education should work with the University Undergraduate Councils to make this a reality — I am sure that other undergraduate programs have prerequisites. Ensuring that our candidates have the content knowledge needed to transition to pedagogical conceptualization of those contents would serve the children they teach well.

I know at our institution the concern about both higher standards and prerequisites is that they favor students who attended the institution for four years, and may not give those who start their education at community colleges the opportunity to enroll in our programs.

3. Common Core State Standards.

First, it is important to note that NCTQ collected syllabi for their “study” around the time that we were learning about the intricacies of the Common Core. Although our elementary program went through a complete overhaul during the time NCTQ was collecting syllabi — which included incorporating instruction about the Common Core — NCTQ refused to collect our revised program syllabi. Instead, they used old syllabi — largely created by faculty who no longer teach at our institution — to evaluate our current program.

It is important to note that conservative, corporate reformers are pressing — and funding — the Common Core movement. As a matter of fact, many of reformers who funded NCTQ are the very ones with their hands in the Common Core pot. So, it stands to reason that NCTQ — who was writing a report meant to admonish teacher preparation programs — would not actually want to collect evidence of the infusion of Common Core within said programs.

4. Faculty matter — unless you’re NCTQ.

NCTQ wants teachers who are competent in subject matter instruction. However, they apparently saw no need to review the faculty expertise at the participating institutions. Clearly, syllabi and course catalogs tell the entire story about the “teaching quality” of teacher preparation programs. Of course, one would think that NCTQ would be interested in the actual teaching quality of faculty in these programs, but having never visited the institutions they evaluated, it would be challenging for them to determine quality in this manner.

To be clear, I will not adjust my syllabi solely to address the NCTQ concerns. I adjust my syllabi based on the needs of those I teach, after careful consideration of the research literature and our school district partners. I know the work we’ve put into the revisions of our program, and I know that our students are receiving a high quality experience. Perhaps if NCTQ had evaluated the syllabi we actually use in our program, they would know that too.

(The NCTQ focus on reading instruction and internships are worthy of separate blog posts — that I will write very soon.)

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