There’s nothing necessarily surprising about the results from the National Council on Teacher Quality’s review of 1,130 of the nation’s university schools of education. After all, evidence has long ago demonstrated that most ed schools do a shoddy job of recruiting aspiring teachers and even fewer provide the high-quality training — especially in reading and math instruction — aspiring teachers to be successful in classrooms. So no one can really be shocked by the fact that just four ed schools have garnered a full four stars from NCTQ for training aspiring high school and middle school teachers — and no ed school reviewed scored the top rating for training teachers working at the elementary level. Nor can one be shocked that only one out of every four ed schools recruited aspiring teachers from the top 50 percent of all students on college campuses — and that none of them bothered to even conduct interviews of their prospective students as part of their selection processes.
Yet NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review, which it has put together with the help of U.S. News & World Report, is still an important and powerful report. And not just because of the data. By shining greater light on the failings of the nation’s ed schools — and by sparring with ed schools and the American Association for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the lobbying group for the schools with which NCTQ has long sparred — the teacher quality think tank is forcing the much-needed overhaul of how we recruit and train aspiring teachers so they can provide our children with the high-quality education they deserve.
As some of you already know by now, NCTQ’s review, which builds off a series of earlier surveys it has conducted on the quality of teacher training, has been ongoing for most of the past two years. It hasn’t been easy to do. At each turn, the think tank has successfully sued ed schools such as those operated by the University of Wisconsin to gain access to course syllabi they refused to turn over, battled publicly with ed school deans over how NCTQ was rating the schools, and withstood mudslinging by AACTE, which has disseminated pieces such as those by once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch, who has accused the think tank of being little more than stooge for the reformers traditionalists (especially ed school deans) oppose. Given the sparring between NCTQ and the ed school crowd, it was no surprise that the review was not exactly welcomed. [Update: Nor has it been welcomed by the American Federation of Teachers, which for all its declarations that it wants to overhaul teacher training has little interest in actually doing so.]
Yet none of the nastiness stopped NCTQ from completing its review. What it has found isn’t exactly shocking, but it is still quite revealing. Not one ed school in 15 states (including Alabama, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia) had undergraduate or graduate teacher training programs that earned three or more stars (out of a possible four); in 32 states, there were no ed schools that earned a full four stars for training elementary school teachers. This is particularly troublesome in states that serve large numbers of black, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native children. Districts in Alaska, for example, can’t count on the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses to provide high-quality teachers for its classrooms; Anchorage only garnered one star for its graduate program for secondary school teachers (and no rating at all for its training of aspiring teachers at the undergraduate level), while Fairbanks garnered only one star for its undergraduate elementary teacher training efforts (and none for its graduate training programs).
The fact that only nine percent — or 105 — ed schools surveyed by NCTQ (and a mere 17 percent of the 608 schools earning a ranking) were rated three stars or higher for their training efforts overall should not surprise anyone. What is shocking is the fact that so many of the ed schools at historically minority-serving universities — who often serve as training grounds for black, Latino, and Native teachers serving poor and minority children — were so shoddy in their training that they didn’t make the cut at all. Only one of the ed schools at historically black colleges and universities — Texas Southern University — earned a rating of three stars or more. Not one ed school operated by an American Indian tribal university made the cut; neither did the University of Hawaii, whose ed schools train nearly all the teachers working in that state’s public and private schools (especially those serving Native Hawaiian children). It will be difficult to increase the number of minorities — especially black men — working in the nation’s teaching corps unless those ed schools are either overhauled or alternative teacher training outfits emerge to replace them.
No one is surprised that ed schools are failing in training teachers in reading and math instruction. But the extent to which ed schools are failing to prepare aspiring teachers to simply do their work is astonishing. Seventy-seven percent of ed schools surveyed failed to provide training and feedback on managing classrooms; the lack of strong training in classroom management is one reason why so many teachers do poorly in improving student achievement — and a culprit in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh forms of traditional school discipline that lead so many kids on the path to dropping out. Even worse, ed schools aren’t even helping aspiring teachers take on the new challenges that are emerging in the profession. Four out of every five ed school either gave little or no training in how to develop summative and diagnostic tests or in analyzing test score growth data; this is unacceptable given that teachers will have to use data in addressing the learning needs of their kids (as well as in improving their own work). Again, this isn’t surprising because ed school professors still focus on theories of how to teach children instead of on real-world instructional practice that actually improving student achievement.
The NCTQ report also casts harsh light on those ed schools that didn’t co-operate with the review. This dishonor roll includes such prestigious institutions such as Columbia University’s Teachers College, Howard University (whose ed school dean recently wrote some claptrap complaining that school reform was little more than an effort to push black families out of their communities), and University of Southern California’s Rossier School. As with so many of the ed schools that refused to provide NCTQ information for the review, these schools likely declined to do so because they don’t want to damage their reputations and because of the disagreement AACTE (along with their peers) with NCTQ’s methodology. This is unacceptable. If a prestigious ed school such as that of the University of Michigan — whose dean, Deborah Ball, is among the foremost proponents of revamping teacher training — is willing to stand up to scrutiny and face the possibility of low rankings that can damage their prestige, these institutions should do so too. And if they disagree with the ranking, they could easily explain why in the same way the rest of their respective universities do when faced with a negative rating from U.S. News‘s annual survey of universities.
None of NCTQ’s findings will sit kindly with either ed school deans or with the folks at AACTE. But in the process, they actually brought more scrutiny upon their operations than if they just simply co-operated with the review in the first place. They reminded reformers and everyone else that they are more concerned about keeping their coffers filled with the $7 billion spent annually on teacher training. They made clear that the desultory quality of training that they provide has helped sustain the nation’s educational crisis. The unwillingness of ed schools to be more-selective in recruiting aspiring teachers has essentially made them the laughingstocks of higher education — and hinders efforts to elevate the teaching profession itself.
NCTQ’s review is once again a reminder that most of the nation’s ed schools don’t deserve to exist. At the same time, the results should also prompt reformers and politicians to take action against the state teacher credentialing agencies that oversee ed schools. By providing data on ed school quality, NCTQ is doing the critical work that these agencies should already being undertaking. Because teacher certification agencies are often separate from education departments, ed schools are not well-scrutinized and regulated; there’s also the fact that the certification agencies themselves are also stuck in an old-school mindset, eschewing data in evaluating the effectiveness of ed schools in providing districts and school operators with high-quality talent. Addressing how ed schools are regulated is as key to advancing teacher quality reform as shedding light on their failures.
Certainly NCTQ’s ratings aren’t perfect. It didn’t review ed schools for their success in training aspiring teachers to work with kids from poor and minority backgrounds different from their own. Considering that three out of every five teachers in classrooms are white females (and that nearly all teachers come from middle class households), such training is critical to ensuring that they have the empathy for children from backgrounds different from their own to help all kids succeed. But NCTQ could easily argue that the greater selectivity (including using the method of teacher selection developed by teacher training guru Martin Haberman) would be best solution ed schools can undertake for ensuring that aspiring teachers are culturally competent and care for all kids. One can also call into question NCTQ’s focus on how ed schools train aspiring teachers on grasping Common Core reading and math standards being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia; from where I sit, this puts NCTQ’s review in the crosshairs of Common Core opponents (especially conservative reformers opposed to the standards who have now become as intellectually vacuous as the traditionalists they criticize), who will rebuff it for advancing curricula standards they oppose (and subject the think tank to the conspiracy-theorizing they have engaged in so wholeheartedly) instead of embracing the report’s findings and tackling teacher quality reforms. [As you would expect, University of Arkansas’s Jay P. Greene, one of the foremost Common Core foes has already trashed NCTQ’s report for doing so (as well as for “hubris” in attempting to force ed schools toward one approach to effective teacher training.]
All that said, NCTQ’s review strikes an important blow for overhauling how we recruit and train aspiring teachers — especially in light of another report, this time from ERS Strategies, on the need to ditch the shoddy professional development provided to teachers already in classrooms. Given that a teacher in the classroom is unlikely to improve the quality of their instruction after their first four years on the job, revamping teacher training (and, from your editor’s perspective, abandoning ed schools altogether) is critical to advancing the systemic reforms needed to provide all children with the high-quality education they deserve.