Nat'l Rev Myth Buster #7: Let's hear it for innovation- that's built on strong core principles

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Over the last two months, we've worked to dispel myths and misconceptions regarding our national review of teacher preparation programs. Today's post addresses the charge that the review will stifle creativity, a claim for which there is not only no evidence, but which runs counter to our philosophy on teacher preparation.

Institutions are worried that NCTQ's standards are so specific and comprehensive that they will have to perform in perfect lockstep to get a high rating.  That's just not the case.  Yes, our standards are specific.  But they are specific only about the basics: programs should admit teacher candidates with talent, ensure that they "know their stuff," and provide instruction on necessary professional skills.

A few examples from our previous reports might help explain.

In our Illinois report, the University of Chicago's Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) earned a "B" overall, a strong program grade, but it also got both high and low marks on specific standards.  The low marks surprised a lot of folks and many worried they resulted from the program's innovative features.  In fact, the problems lie elsewhere.  UTEP got a gold star from us for its exceptionally well-conceived and innovative clinical experience, but we found problems in the basic content it was delivering in reading instruction and elementary math, absolutely fundamental components of elementary teacher education.  The low ratings in reading and math had nothing to do with innovation and everything to do with not covering all the basics.

Going back a little earlier to our Texas report, the University of Texas at Austin complained loudly that NCTQ had difficulty with the innovative approach applied to secondary teacher preparation in a program known as "UTeach." Again, the issue was never about our inability to accommodate UTeach's innovative practices, of which we have been longtime fans and continue to be.  In fact, UT Austin's ratings suffered because it was graduating high school science teachers deemed technically qualified to teach biology even though they had taken as few as two courses in biology.  Despite the programs many strengths, we cannot look past that fundamental issue.

Innovation, creativity, diversity in approaches — we're all for them!  But a strong design must undergird all approaches to preparation to provides teacher candidates with the fundamentals necessary to become effective educators. 

Marisa Goldstein