Largely ignored during the past 30 years of efforts to reform K-12 schools, the higher education community is about to feel the glare of the public spotlight on its work--and that attention is causing concern and skepticism.
In January 2011, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), an independent, nonprofit group that advocates for reforms in teacher policies, said it would rate all teacher preparation programs and publish the results next year in U.S. News & World Report. The announcement has rankled many, even in the teacher reform movement, and highlights in sharp relief the divergent factors and strategies at play. Most school reform efforts have focused on schools, districts, and communities. But the move to assess teacher education and publicize the results puts higher education under a spotlight that it has rarely experienced.
Schools of education have responded to the news with alarm, describing the national review of teacher preparation as "flawed," "unnecessary," and "a violation of sound research." The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), a national alliance of educator preparation programs, found in a recent survey that only 12% of its member institutions plan to participate willingly.
Teacher preparation programs, of course, are already approved either by an independent accrediting agency, such as the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE) or by a state-based accrediting body--usually the state board of education, or by both (National Research Council, 2010). State program approval varies considerably by state. In general, states set requirements that programs must meet for their graduates to be eligible to teach in the state. But state program approval is largely pro forma, and examples of states revoking approval--or even mandating significant changes--are scarce. The variability and value of the current accreditation process has been the subject of debate in recent years. At least one national study found no difference in the student achievement outcomes of teachers educated at accredited programs versus nonaccredited programs (Levine, 2006).
NCTQ sees its effort as an essential push to reform a teacher education system that offers no guarantees of quality for anyone involved--from college students who attend the programs to the districts, schools, and children who depend on the colleges to produce good teachers. And despite the criticism, NCTQ President Kate Walsh says she's convinced her organization will get the data it needs to do the full national review--and repeat parts of it annually. With $4.5 million in private funds to support the work and a team of more than 30 analysts and experts, her confidence may be justified.
NCTQ's national review follows its smaller, state-specific reviews in Texas and Illinois in 2010 and two national studies of preparation programs in reading and math. Modeled after its state-specific reviews, NCTQ proposes rating each of the nation's 1,400 teacher preparation programs against 17 standards for program quality developed by NCTQ with the input of a national advisory panel. The panel consists of education school faculty, state education leaders, and education researchers. (The initial 39 standards, considered too unwieldy for a national review, were pared down to 17 by the technical panel.) NCTQ said it will base its ratings on a review of course requirements, syllabi, textbooks and reading packets, student-teaching placement information, admissions requirements, and surveys of graduates and employers.
NCTQ not alone
Without better mechanisms to distinguish between high-quality preparation programs and those that fall short, improving the odds that all children have effective teachers will be an uphill battle. And NCTQ is not alone in targeting teacher preparation programs. The NCTQ review is just one effort in a much larger push by state agencies, the federal government, and national accreditors to improve teacher education and to hold preparation programs more accountable for how well their graduates perform once they reach the classroom. …