Sneak peek on our Review: More evidence of fiefdoms in higher ed

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When we first started looking at teacher preparation programs, we made what we thought was a reasonable assumption. We thought we'd find little substantive difference between the preparation an aspiring teacher might get as an undergrad with the preparation in the grad program on that same campus. After all, the two programs share a common administration and faculty, so why wouldn't they be roughly equivalent? Wouldn't there be some common vision for the courses needed to produce a well prepared teacher? 

We were dead wrong. As our upcoming Teacher Prep Review will show, there are big differences--especially when it comes to what's offered to future elementary teachers.  

Here are the course loads-- considering only education courses -- for prospective elementary teachers at a few schools in our Review.  

Kent State University (OH): 89 credits at the undergraduate level versus 52 credits at the graduate level

East Carolina University (NC): 68 credits at the undergraduate level versus 39 credits at the graduate level

Arizona State University: 69 credits at the undergraduate level versus 48 at the graduate level

Given that undergrad course loads are routinely bigger than grad course loads, our first thought was that grad programs are basically an abridged version of the undergrad program. But if you look at the actual requirements, the rationales for differences are not obvious. Take the State University of New York - Cortland at which the grad and undergrad course loads are almost identical. The undergrad program requires 7 courses that aren't required at the grad level and the grad program requires 4 courses that aren't required at the undergrad level.

One consistent factor that explains some of the differences is grad programs' focus on having candidates conduct classroom research. If these grad programs were designed for teachers who had already been practicing for a while, that focus might make sense, but they're not. At Southern Connecticut State University, the initial certification grad program has 50 percent more courses than the undergrad program and the primary reason was the research focus. Within that very heavy coursework load, there's apparently no room left for such essentials as classroom management. 

These differences, which can only be explained by giving higher priority to academic freedom than to the coherent preparation of new teachers, have big implications because they mean that we can never assume that the evaluation of any elementary or secondary program on campus is a "twofer." In that vein, any state developing a value-added teacher prep data model would be well-advised to report data from on individual programs rather than assuming that programs within a single institution are roughly alike.  

The Review will include evaluations from 130 institutions in which we've rated elementary and/or secondary prep at both the undergrad and grad levels. Very few reveal a clearly shared vision of what constitutes a well prepared new teacher.