NCTQ’s Spring 2017 Landscape in Teacher Preparation examines traditional undergraduate programs that prepare future secondary
teachers, an examination we conduct on two-year cycles. In the Spring 2017 edition we examined 717 programs across all 50
states and the District of Columbia. Our next release, in Fall 2017, will examine graduate and nontraditional (e.g., alternative) elementary teacher prep programs, followed by graduate and nontraditional secondary programs in Spring 2018. The
two-year cycle will close in 2018 with the release of our analysis of special education programs.
WHAT to Teach: Program Requirements in Subject-Matter Knowledge
The first task of any institution of higher education in preparing undergraduates to be teachers is to ensure, either through
coursework completion or testing, that candidates leave their program knowing WHAT to teach in their certification subject.
States commonly differ in the certifications and tests they require.
Since teachers’ content knowledge needs vary according to the subject they will teach, we evaluated teacher prep programs’
certification routes and requirements for single-subject certifications separately from those authorizing the teaching of
multiple subjects. Certification routes are a college major, minor, or other defined sequence of courses that the prep
program mandates to satisfy state requirements for a specific secondary teacher certification. Certification routes must
be analyzed separately from the programs as a secondary prep program often encompasses multiple certification routes
to prepare teachers in different subjects; programs may do better in one route than another.
Also, because we found in 2014 that almost all institutions (99 percent) successfully prepared English and mathematics
teacher candidates in their subject area — by requiring a straightforward major in these subjects and/or passing a licensing
test — in this edition, we turned our attention to the more complex areas of content for science and social studies.
Secondary Content in the Sciences
Key Findings: Almost all programs (81 percent) ensure that science candidates will graduate having demonstrated
reasonable knowledge of the subjects they will be certified to teach, either because programs require candidates to take
sufficient coursework or because their candidates must pass the state’s licensing tests (if our analysis determines the
tests to be of sufficient quality). These programs earn an A in this area.
Not surprisingly, the number of A-rated programs plummets when programs — with the blessing of their state — try to
prepare teacher candidates to teach different subjects under the science umbrella rather than as a single subject. While
virtually all programs do well at preparing a teacher candidate to teach a single subject, the task becomes more complicated
when the teacher will be certified to teach not only biology but physics and chemistry as well. When teachers pursue certification
that would allow them to teach more than one subject, the risk is higher that their program will not have adequate coursework
requirements — and that the state’s test will not identify where candidates lack essential content knowledge.
If multiple-subject certification is so challenging for institutions, why then do so many states allow it? The answer is that
districts, dependent on flexibility in staffing, clamor for these certifications. The reality is that about four-fifths of all states
allow science teachers to be certified to teach more than one science subject.
Although 29 states and
the District of Columbia
offer general science
certification that permits
teachers to teach all of
the sciences, only one
state, Missouri, uses
a series of licensing
tests to ensure that
of each subject they
Because it would be impractical to require teacher candidates to earn a 30-credit-hour
major in each science subject they will be certified to teach, we looked for one of the
following three pathways to competency for multiple-subject certifications:
Four out of five (81 percent) of the programs offering certification in the sciences
earned an A by virtue of being located in states with adequate licensing tests or because
they have adequate coursework.
- At least a minor (15 credit hours) in two of the core sciences they will be certified
- At least 50 semester credit hours across the sciences
- A state certification test or multiple tests that provide separate scores for each
subject they will be licensed to teach.
When we compare certification routes earning an A to those earning an F, we find the key difference is breadth, the number
of science subjects covered, and depth, the number of credits in each subject.
F-rated routes essentially treat general science certification as though it were a single-subject certification, rather than
prepare teacher candidates to teach all the subjects the certification will allow. This means that the program can improve
its breadth of coverage by shifting some of its required credit hours from the first subject to the other subjects
See the research support and methodology for Secondary Content in the Sciences.
Secondary Content in the Social Studies
More teacher prep programs offer sufficient content preparation for aspiring science teachers than they
do for future social studies teachers. Programs maintain this lower standard for social studies even though one would
logically expect science standards to be lower to accommodate shortages of science teachers, especially since there is
rarely a reported shortage in the supply of social studies teachers.
Although the number of programs preparing social studies teachers is about the same as for science, only 65 percent
qualify for an A in this area compared to 81 percent of programs in science. One key reason for this difference is that
more states rely exclusively on multiple-subject certification in the social studies than in the sciences.
As with science, the number of A-rated programs falls drastically when programs, with the permission of states, permit or are limited to preparing teacher candidates to teach multiple subjects in social studies rather than a single subject. When
programs prepare someone to be a history teacher or an economics teacher, the solution is simple: major in the subject
and pass a state test. Usually, state tests are the reason nearly all programs score well on these straightforward certification
routes. Only when programs prepare teachers for general subjects (e.g., a general social studies certification that allow a teacher to
teach history and economics) do we see a big drop in the quality of preparation, with roughly two in five certification routes
coming up short.
While almost every state has a general social studies certification, only three (California, Minnesota, and Missouri) have a licensing test with separate scores for each subject teacher candidates will be certified to teach. Most state tests for general social studies certification are inadequate because
teachers can pass by achieving a high score in one area of social studies that compensates
for a low score in another. In states that lack these testing “guardrails,” prep programs
have a responsibility to make sure candidates learn the content they will teach through
the successful completion of coursework. Unfortunately, only about half do so.
Practical options for preparing teachers to teach multiple subjects in
Only four states do not allow multiple-subject certifications in Social Studies: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee.
Programs and their states can pursue one of four options that would better meet the
needs of schools:
Two-thirds of the reviewed programs in social studies (65 percent) earn an A. While
those programs allowing only single-subject routes pass at a rate of 98 percent, it is
the multiple-subject routes that challenge both programs and states.
- A major in history, as that is the most common subject taught by teachers with general social studies certification
- A minor in history and in one other core social studies area
- 50 credit hours across the social studies, with at least a minor in history
- A requirement for a licensing test that provides subject-specific scoring
Programs earn an A for adequate licensing tests or, in the absence of such tests, adequate content requirements. For single-subject certifications, a candidate must have a major or close to a major and significant supporting coursework. For multiple-subject certifications, a candidate must have a major in history; a minor in history and one other social studies subject; or, a minor in history and at least 50 credit hours of total social studies coursework.
Please see the detailed
grading criteria in our
at social studies content.
In spite of the fact that history is the most commonly taught subject in the social studies, we found a
not insignificant number of programs where history is relegated to the back seat. Roughly
one out of five programs offers a certification route that requires less than even a minor
(15 credits) in history for general social studies certification. More troubling still, among
these are 28 programs that require just a single history course — or none at all.
For more information on licensing tests in each state, see our guide to secondary content analysis.
See the research support and methodology for Secondary Content in the Social Studies.
HOW to Teach: Program Expectations in Practice Teaching
Learning the best methods for teaching high school students how to write a research paper has little in common with
teaching students how to factor quadratic equations. That’s why when it comes to what programs are doing to prepare
teachers how to teach, it’s important to see more than just a general methods course on the list of course requirements.Teacher practice is crucially important in learning how to be a good teacher, and that is why some form of clinical experience
must be associated with a methods course. While virtually all aspiring teachers participate in student teaching, a required
teaching fieldwork experience as part of the methods coursework provides the opportunity to practice methods as they
are learned before taking over a classroom full of teenagers in student teaching. Fieldwork as part of the methods course
helps to move teacher candidates from the theoretical to the practical.
Secondary Methods: Coursework and Practice
Most programs (76 percent) require methods courses specific to teachers’ intended certification subjects.
The remaining programs either do not do this systematically or they do not do it at all, instead requiring only a generic
Sum of percentages do not add to 100 because of rounding.
Four out of five subject-specific methods courses we could examine
require a fieldwork experience in which aspiring teachers
spend time in high school classrooms, while just 47 percent require the aspiring teacher to teach as part of that fieldwork.
Related to practice, nearly half of evaluated programs that require subject-specific methods coursework (47 percent) earn
an A in this area because those courses include practice teaching actual students, and there is explicit mention that these
teacher candidates will receive a formal analysis of how well they did. The remaining programs do not appear to have this
requirement systematically (13 percent) or do not have it at all (40 percent).
When looking for which programs are less likely to offer subject-specific methods
courses, it seemed likely that smaller programs
would have the most trouble doing
so. And, indeed, size appears to be the distinguishing factor, with small programs
comprising almost all 88 percent of the programs that fall into this category.
most small programs still manage to find a way to provide such subject-specific
methods courses. In fact, 74 percent of small programs achieve this important
See the research support and methodology for Secondary Methods: Coursework and Practice.
While the vast majority
of programs that do
not require methods
courses specific to a
teacher’s subject area
are small, most small
programs (74 percent)
do require subject-specific
As NCTQ has documented previously, teacher prep programs generally
leave too many of the components that lead to a high-quality student teaching experience
to chance. Unfortunately, the new evidence we’ve found in this regard indicates that
little has changed.
We look at programs’ approach to two essential elements that can increase the likelihood
that a student teacher will have a positive experience:
- The program’s policy on how often a student teacher must be visited and observed
and what happens during these observations.
- The program’s role in determining who is qualified to serve as the cooperating teacher.
We find that only 6 percent of programs do well on both of these elements.
Programs that earn an A or a B check that cooperating teachers have the skills they
need to host student teachers and require program supervisors to conduct frequent
observations of student teachers. Programs that earn a C or a D provide student
teachers with, at most, only one of two key elements of a high-quality student teaching
program — adequate observations with comments or a strong cooperating teacher —
and programs that earn an F provide neither of these elements.
Following are the programs that succeed in providing the two essential elements (earning an A or a B).
The following programs, almost 25 percent of our sample, do not deliver either of the safeguards on quality.
Full list of programs can be found here.
Following is further detail on the two components we examined.
Observations: How much is enough?
Research, albeit limited, indicates that teachers are more likely to get off to a successful start if they are observed by their
supervisor least five times. In our analysis we look for at least four formal observations to meet this standard.
These are formal observations conducted by a supervisor or other representative of the teacher prep program, not the
high school. Such observations must also include the supervisor giving written feedback to the student teacher on what
The quality of the mentor teachers
Nearly all programs leave it up to the school district to select the cooperating teacher without any process in place to
verify that the teacher is effective or has the ability to mentor adult learners.
Only 8 percent of the programs consistently collect substantive information on their cooperating teachers’ skills. Of the
programs we evaluated, only about 1 percent screen cooperating teachers to determine whether they are both capable
mentors and effective instructors as measured by student learning.
These programs confirm that cooperating teachers have strong skills. Programs that check cooperating teachers’ effectiveness
(as measured by student learning) and mentorship skill get a star.
In this area, we again see the important influence of state regulations on program policy. The states in which the largest
proportion of programs require cooperating teachers to have strong mentorship skills are states that have a regulation requiring
these skills (Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, and North Dakota).
However, regulation and enforcement are two different things. Seventy five percent of programs in four additional states with a regulation on the books (New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) still do not explicitly include mentorship skills in their list of criteria for cooperating teachers.
Most programs shy away from specifying the skills cooperating teachers need, as it can often be hard enough to find
enough classroom teachers willing to take on a student teacher. Nearly three in four programs do not even suggest to
their school district partners that cooperating teachers should be effective instructors. The most common requirements
stated by programs in communications with school districts are 1) that the cooperating teacher have three years of experience;
2) that the cooperating teacher be licensed in the area in which the student teacher will be certified; and 3) that the cooperating
teacher must be a “master” or “exemplary” teacher, without defining what this means.
See the research support and methodology for
Studies investigating classroom management have identified specific strategies that are successful at improving student
behavior and related outcomes. The wisdom accumulated from centuries of teaching — as well as findings from strong research
studies — recognizes that student learning depends on both engaging instruction and a well-managed classroom.
New teachers and their principals consistently report that classroom management is one of their greatest challenges.
Given that students learn best in an orderly, well-run classroom, teacher candidates should be trained in a coherent
management approach focusing on the five areas that receive strong support from research. See NCTQ's
Training Future Teachers: Classroom Management
report and two meta-analyses.
When teachers are taught what works in managing a classroom, they can maintain a better environment in which students
can learn. Without this knowledge, teachers struggle to learn on their own which approaches are most effective.
What is behind a well-managed classroom? First, it is critical that teachers minimize chances for misbehavior by planning
and implementing classroom rules and daily routines, creating engaging lessons, and by setting up the classroom so that it is easy for a teacher to
circulate among the students. Second, teachers should implement the right kinds of interactions with students (e.g., using
praise to encourage positive behavior, refocusing off-task students in ways that don’t disrupt the rest of the class) to
consistently maintain a focus on instruction. Finally, teachers must be prepared to respond appropriately to misbehavior
Fewer than half of teacher prep programs (44 percent) evaluate student teachers on their ability to apply
effective strategies for managing student behavior.
Programs signal which classroom management skills they consider most essential through the indicators included on
observation and evaluation forms. Our review of programs therefore focuses on these forms, specifically those used
during the keystone experience of student teaching. We check to see if these evaluation forms indicate that every student
teacher will be evaluated on the five universal and research-based classroom management strategies.
Research-Based Strategies for Managing Student Behavior:
Programs that earn an A provide feedback on all five key strategies, while programs that earn an F provide, at best, feedback
on only a portion of one of them. Student teachers in programs scoring a C or below receive coaching on proactive steps
toward classroom management, e.g., creating classroom rules or writing engaging lessons, but they almost never learn
how to deal with misbehavior when it occurs, or how to use praise to motivate students to be their best.
- Establishing and reinforcing rules and routines, such as what to do when entering the class at the start of the
period and rules for obtaining an extension on due dates.
- Maximizing learning time by maintaining student engagement and managing time, materials and the physical
- Encouraging appropriate behavior through praise and other positive reinforcement.
- Maintaining awareness of the classroom and using the least disruptive means to address minor misbehavior.
- Appropriately responding to disruptive misbehavior.
For more on these five strategies, see NCTQ’s
Training Future Teachers: Classroom Management
and evidence-based practices research cited above.
In terms of which of the five strategies are most likely to be addressed, programs are most likely to look for the student teacher’s
ability to establish standards of behavior (77 percent) as well as maximize the amount of class time when students are
focused on learning (70 percent).
Programs are least likely to evaluate student teachers on their use of meaningful praise and other positive reinforcement
to encourage positive behavior (27 percent), even though this area of research has the strongest support of any of the five.
Programs’ evaluation of student teachers on these skills has improved slightly since the
. Among the undergraduate
secondary programs evaluated in both editions, 49 percent now receive an A or a B compared to 40 percent in 2014.
This is due in part to a move by Massachusetts, which raised the score of all of its programs by revising its mandatory
statewide teacher performance assessment to cover more key areas of classroom management. Again, this shows how
state action can help improve the quality of teacher education programs.
A few notable, classroom management-related changes that make Massachusetts’s Candidate
Assessment of Performance, introduced for the 2016-2017 school year, different from its predecessor:
See the research support and methodology for
Selectivity in Admissions
- Most importantly, the assessment specifically requires that student teachers receive feedback, based on observations,
about their classroom performance. This is especially important for classroom management.
- The scoring guidelines specifically ask for feedback on the student teacher’s ability to use praise to encourage
- The structure of the assessment makes it clear that student teachers must receive feedback on their ability to
respond to student behavior — positive and negative — in the classroom, instead of leaving the possibility that
feedback will focus on proactive actions like setting classroom rules.
This analysis ends with where teacher preparation programs start: the selection of candidates.
A fundamental attribute of effective teachers is possessing the academic ability needed for the job. While teaching generally
may not require individuals who can solve the equations of relativity, it does require candidates who are reasonably well
educated, are quick and agile thinkers, and are capable of making hundreds of decisions every hour of the day.
Other attributes such as an affinity for children, sensitivity to all cultures, grit, and a sense of personal responsibility are
all attributes that programs and districts can and should value, but academic ability should be the primary “gateway”
skill into the profession.
Unfortunately, as has been documented previously by NCTQ and many others, too many teacher preparation programs in
the United States do not set the bar high enough as to who may enter the programs. Again, we find with this new round
of evidence that just over half of the evaluated teacher prep programs are sufficiently selective.
Many programs will argue that making their programs more selective will have a negative impact on the diversity of their
candidates. Yet, nearly half of the most selective programs (N=88) are both selective and diverse.
Of the 57 percent of programs that earn an A or a B, nearly all (53 percent) earn their A or B by virtue of being housed in
institutions that are highly or moderately selective. Programs that are not housed in selective institutions need to take proactive
steps to ensure that their teacher candidates are drawn from the top half of the college population. However, only 4 percent
of all programs do so — earning an A or a B for taking actions such as admitting classes of teacher candidates with high
standardized test scores or average GPAs or setting a high minimum GPA for admission.
Among the programs that did not earn an A for the selectivity of their institution, the number that require at least a 3.0
grade-point average for admission into their teacher prep program rose from 30 programs in 2014 to 54 programs in
2016, a small but notable improvement.
See the research support and methodology for