Undergraduate programs struggle to prepare high school teachers

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The National Council on Teacher Quality's (NCTQ) evaluation of 717 undergraduate programs preparing high school teachers found that many programs do well preparing teachers in some subjects but fall short with science and social studies, and almost all continue to struggle providing high quality practice opportunities.

Top Tier

NCTQ's analysis recognizes 16 highly successful programs as "NCTQ's Top Tier: The Nation's Best Undergraduate Secondary Teacher Prep Programs":

These programs, ranking in the 99th and 98th percentile, earn the "Top Tier" honor because they have solid admission standards, provide sufficient preparation in each candidate's intended subject area, and show them how best to teach that subject. Many also do well in teaching how to manage a classroom and providing and ensuring the high quality of practice opportunities. For a full listing of how all programs in the nation fared, please click here.

These programs did not share many characteristics. They are a mix by size, public/private governorship, tuition costs, and religious/secular orientation.

Preparation as Big Leaky Bucket

Individual programs independently determine much of what they do to prepare teachers, working within the limits set by the state's certification subjects and test requirements. As a result, the quality of preparation varies widely depending on the requirements set by the programs and by the states in which they reside, as each state decides on the licensing tests which will be used.

Content: A common problem for many of the 700+ programs is the relatively weak content preparation provided to science and social studies teacher candidates, compared to the almost uniformly strong preparation in English and mathematics content in the same institutions.

A sizeable portion of programs (43 percent) struggle to prepare both science and social studies teachers to teach the subject's content, with many doing one or the other well, but not both.

A particularly troubling finding was the number of programs that give history short shrift when preparing social studies teachers, with one out of five programs requiring minimal to no history courses of their candidates. History is the subject general social studies teachers are most likely to teach.

Methods: Also, a quarter of programs fail to offer a specific course in the instructional methods and techniques to teach the teachers' intended subjects. Instead they only offer a generic teaching method course, severely limiting these future teachers in their classrooms.

Content & Methods Both: Only 42 percent of programs succeed at teaching all their future teachers both the content and teaching methods across all four primary subject areas: English, mathematics, sciences and social studies.

Selectivity: Even though there are some early signs that programs are becoming more selective in their admissions, many (44 percent) continue to set the bar too low for who gets into their programs. One promising finding is that programs with good admissions standards are still meeting diversity goals. This shows that institutions can work to simultaneously increase both the diversity and the academic quality of the teaching force.

Student Teaching: Perhaps the most troubling finding is that only 6 percent of programs pay sufficient attention to the quality of their student teaching opportunities, the most comprehensive practice candidates will get. They fail to establish an expectation that only teachers who have been found to be effective should be assigned to mentor future teachers, as well as the requirement that student teachers be regularly observed by program staff.

Also, fewer than half of all programs (44 percent) expect teacher candidates to demonstrate the most effective strategies identified in extensive research for managing classrooms while student teaching.


Recommendations for Programs: Programs need to shore up content requirements in all the subjects the future teacher will be licensed to teach, especially in the broad certifications of general science and social studies. For instance, all aspiring social studies teachers should have to take the equivalent of at least a minor in history. Also, all programs should require subject-specific teaching methods courses that provide aspiring teachers with opportunities for real practice.

Recommendations for States: States should require new teachers to pass licensing tests in every subject they will teach. Many states need to replace general science and general social studies tests that allow a high score in one subject to compensate for a low score in another.

For more information about the findings and recommendations, the Undergraduate Secondary TPR Landscape Report, can be found here.