Our Review of Teacher Preparation Programs with U.S. News: Setting the Record Straight

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By now you've heard that NCTQ is reviewing teacher preparation programs in partnership with US News & World Report. The goal? We want to provide future teachers, district superintendents and policy makers with information about how these institutions are preparing teachers for the classroom.

We rate teacher preparation programs on how well they're designed to turn out "student-ready" teachers. From the research, we know that teachers should:

  • Have strong academic aptitude (i.e., they have to be reasonably smart),
  • Know the subjects they're going to teach and the best methods for teaching them, and
  • Get lots of solid practical training (in classroom management, for example.)

Since we launched the review, we've gotten word from almost 300 institutions that they don't intend to cooperate. These institutions are strongly opposed to an outside group like NCTQ analyzing their work and have launched wide-ranging attacks on us.

Here, we'd like to set the record straight:

MYTH: NCTQ is a right-wing organization.

FACT: NCTQ is a non-partisan, independent policy research organization. Our board, staff and funders represent the range of the political spectrum, with board members who served both Democratic and Republican administrations. Our current board chair is Barbara O'Brien, most recently a Democratic lieutenant governor of Colorado.

MYTH:NCTQ is biased against traditional teacher prep.

FACT: We definitely count ourselves among the many researchers and officials -- including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Linda Darling-Hammond, perhaps the staunchest defender of formal teacher education -- who think that teacher preparation needs a major overhaul. But in every one of our previous reviews, we've identified strong examples of teacher preparation all across the country and lauded them appropriately. We consistently state that formal teacher education, done right, should be demonstrably superior to any other alternative pathway into the profession such that no school district would want to hire someone not formally trained.

MYTH: What NCTQ uses to rate teacher prep is irrelevant.

FACT: We're looking at the same things that deans and faculty look at when they decide what courses and experiences to require of teacher candidates -- except we're using the lens of what teachers need to know and be able to do to be successful in the classroom. Under what circumstances could it be deemed irrelevant to examine a teacher preparation program's reading instruction or preparation in mathematics? In our book, none.

MYTH: NCTQ's work doesn't meet standards of high-quality research.

FACT: We don't pretend that our reviews of teacher preparation programs constitute pure academic research. But the real question is whether or not our reports are accurate. Over the past year and a half, we've issued two reports on teacher prep, the first in Texas and the second in Illinois, covering 123 institutions. Even though they had every reason to do so, our critics from these institutions could only find two errors, both of which were minor and both of which we corrected.

MYTH: NCTQ is only looking at inputs, not outcomes.

FACT: We're holding teacher preparation programs accountable for what they should be doing and what they can directly control: who they let in, what they teach and the level of classroom practice required of candidates. We are also examining how much institutions pay attention to their own outcomes. But the truth is that there is very little outcome data available that can to tell us how good teacher preparation programs are. Data on the learning gains of students of their graduates isn't available in most states. Other available data, such as licensing test pass rates, has no correlation with student learning, and so is of little use. But where the right outcome data is available (in four states and counting), we will use it as part of our review.

MYTH: There is no need for the review because states already hold teacher preparation accountable.

FACT: States may regulate teacher preparation programs, but that doesn't mean that they're holding them accountable. Research has established that teachers coming out of formal teacher preparation, on average, produce no greater gains in their students' learning than teachers who come into the classroom with little to no preparation. And yet in the latest year for which we have data, states deemed only 19 programs at more than 1,400 institutions "low performing." And no more than a handful have ever had their approval taken away. That's not accountability at work.

MYTH: There is no need for the review because teacher education is about to reform itself.

FACT: Grand announcements that a new day is dawning in teacher preparation have come out like clockwork over the past several decades. The basic problem is that the leaders of teacher preparation programs themselves have far too much say in how they're to be evaluated and "re-imagined." Can our kids in public schools really afford to wait for these efforts to bear fruit, if they ever do? It's time for an independent third-party, focused on what principals, superintendents and teachers themselves say they need to be successful in the classroom, to shed some much needed light on these crucial institutions.

Stay tuned for more updates on our review here at PDQ . . .