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High school represents an amazing opportunity for students and their teachers. For most Americans, the high school years played a pivotal role in shaping what they know about subjects such as U.S. history, world history, literature, geometry and biology. For many, the high school years provide one of the last opportunities to gain valuable life-enhancing insights, for example, reading a classic novel such as To Kill a Mockingbird; discovering what happened during historical events such as the French Revolution and the transformation of African nations through colonization and decolonization; learning about scientific theories that go beyond the students’ own experience, ranging from nanotechnology to relativity; and, understanding how numbers interact to form the backbone of the universe.

Even Americans who continue on to college will focus their coursework on one or two majors, and therefore, as adults, they will rely on their high school education for knowledge about most other academic subjects.

Top Programs

Contrary to some expectations, today’s top-ranked teacher prep programs are not located on the most elite — and expensive — campuses; rather, some of the best programs are found in relatively small, not widely known colleges and universities.

NCTQ’s Top Tier: The Nation’s Best Undergraduate Secondary Teacher Prep Programs

Arizona State University (Phoenix) Messiah College (Grantham, PA)
Clemson University (Clemson, SC) Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, OH)
Coe College (Cedar Rapids, IA) St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN)
Colorado Christian University (Lakewood) University of Iowa (Iowa City)
CUNY – Hunter College (New York, NY) University of Minnesota – Duluth
Gordon College (Wenham, MA) University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg)
Hope College (Holland, MI) University of Utah (Salt Lake City)
Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN) University of Wisconsin – Platteville
Western Governors University

The WHAT and the HOW of Teaching

Teachers’ success at educating high school students depends in large part on the teachers' own comfort level with their particular subjects, and, if their students are lucky, having a genuine passion for what they teach. Arguably, the most important job of all higher education institutions that prepare high school teachers is to ensure that every teacher they graduate has obtained a sufficient degree of subject mastery.

With this analysis we offer distressing news. While our 2014 Review found that all institutions effectively meet the content needs of English and mathematics high school teacher candidates, the schools’ preparation of science and social studies teachers is much more of a challenge. Fewer than three in five (57 percent) teacher prep programs adequately cover the subject content that both science and social studies teachers will need to teach. Programs are inconsistent in their attention to content; they often do well preparing science teachers but not as well preparing social studies teachers — or vice versa.

Added to the essential function of showing future teachers what to teach is the need for teacher prep programs to instruct and model how to teach their intended subjects. Here the results are better. Most programs (76 percent) provide courses on teaching methods tailored to specific subjects.

Yet, when we look for the intersection of these two functions — delivering content knowledge and how to teach that knowledge — the results are grimmer. Only a minority of programs (42 percent) systematically deliver on both functions for all of their teacher candidates — not just some — including those seeking certification to teach English, mathematics, science, or social studies.

Closely related to how to teach subject matter is our examination of practice teaching, which every teacher preparation program should provide their teacher candidates. First, we checked to see if the methods course included a fieldwork component — that is, sending the prospective student into an actual classroom. Then we checked to see if the teacher practice opportunity included clinical practice in teaching the methods being learned, providing teaching experience before the aspiring teacher begins formal student teaching. Only 47 percent of the programs we examined required a high-quality practice-teaching experience as an integral part of their tailored methods courses.

As for student teaching, we focused on what the program does to ensure the quality of the student teaching experience. Specifically, we looked at the program's role in checking the suitability of the classroom teacher and providing regular oversight of the student teacher. Unfortunately, only six percent of programs perform well in both of these areas.

New teachers (and their supervisors) often cite classroom management as their most pressing challenge66 and proper training in research-based strategies has been found to relieve the stress.67 Student teaching is the last chance for future teachers to receive feedback on their classroom skills before taking charge of their own classrooms, so we examined evidence that programs evaluate teacher candidates on a full range of research-based classroom management strategies. We found that 44 percent of programs do so. The remaining programs may address proactive skills such as establishing classroom rules and routines, but almost never evaluate student teachers' ability to deal with misbehavior when it occurs, or provide feedback on their use of praise to motivate students.

Comparisons to Our December 2016 Findings on Undergraduate Elementary Programs

As expected, since rules and procedures for selectivity in admissions, student teaching and classroom management cut across teacher prep programs at an institution, whether preparing elementary or secondary teachers, we did not find many notable differences between elementary and secondary programs. There was, however, a difference in the quality of content preparation. In spite of the challenges programs face in the broad categories of science and social studies, undergraduate teacher prep programs deliver better content preparation to secondary teachers than they do to elementary teachers. In any given subject area, the number of programs that deliver strong content preparation ranges from a low of 65 percent for social studies to 99 percent for English and math at the secondary level. This is significantly higher than content preparation in the elementary grades, where only 13 percent of programs provide the preparation elementary teachers need in mathematics, and only 5 percent provide a well rounded liberal arts education.

Teacher preparation programs do far better at preparing secondary teachers than they do preparing elementary school teachers. While only six percent of programs preparing high school teachers have D or F grades in three or more of the five key standards, a majority (52 percent) of elementary programs have D or F grades in three areas.

The Critical Role of the State

The findings presented here demonstrate how the decisions and actions taken by higher education institutions are greatly influenced by state-level policies and requirements. Each state creates its own certification structure and determines what subjects each certification allows teachers to teach. For instance, each state determines whether to offer general science certification, allowing teachers to teach all science subjects (such as biology, chemistry, earth science, or physics); single-subject certification, allowing teachers to teach only one subject, such as biology; or some combination thereof. A similar choice must be made regarding the many subjects falling under the social studies umbrella. Programs in states that provide general science certification or general social studies certification tend to have a steeper climb to ensure that graduates know the broad subject matter for all the subjects covered under that certification.

Ultimately, it falls on both the program (through course requirements) and the state (through licensing tests) to ensure that every high school teacher who enters the classroom has the deep content knowledge needed to teach any course to which she may be assigned.

Nearly all states test candidates for subject-matter knowledge, including licensing tests designed for general science or general social studies certification. In most, but not all, states the tests aimed at these broad subject areas are not

sufficient, as they usually report one overall score and not separate scores for each subject the teacher can teach. This means that a teacher could do poorly in one or two subjects and still pass the test, provided a strong performance on other areas of the test compensate.

Only Missouri has adopted tests that genuinely evaluate the subject-matter knowledge of teachers intending to teach general science and those intending to teach general social studies.68

Due to the shared responsibility between prep programs and states, we checked the adequacy of the policies that serve as the final gateway for teachers, regardless of whether they are policies of the prep program or the state. Consequently, for programs located in states with sufficiently rigorous licensing tests measuring teachers’ knowledge of each subject they will teach (with separate tests or cut-scores for each subject), we did not evaluate programs’ coursework requirements. Instead, all affected programs in these states earn an A for the tested subject’s content preparation.


Detailed information on our methodology can be found here, but we note a few important aspects of that methodology.

This report examines programs and policies in three key areas: knowledge (in the sciences and social studies), practice (teaching methods and student teaching with a particular focus on classroom management) and admissions (selection criteria).

In determining program quality we adhere to a set of evidence-based criteria rooted in scientific research and the best practices of high-performing nations and states. For more on our standards, click here.

In evaluating these programs, we look to the best available evidence to set a clear, reasonable definition for quality preparation, based on what research has found effective secondary school teachers need to know and be able to do. For each teacher prep program, our expert reviewers investigated whether programs have aligned their requirements and instruction with the scientific research on each area. For more information, see the methodology.69

Program grades are based on an extensive library of materials for each program, including course catalogues, degree plans, syllabi, observation forms, and student teaching agreements with districts. For more on what NCTQ examined, click here.

We also provided programs with an opportunity to review their findings and submit additional information if they thought a grade was based on inaccurate data.

Research Findings

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 candidates separately demonstrate knowledge of each subject they will teach. 70

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:
  • At least a minor (15 credit hours) in two of the core sciences they will be certified to teach
  • 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.

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.

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
Key Findings: 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. 71

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 social studies
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:
  1. A major in history, as that is the most common subject taught by teachers with general social studies certification
  2. A minor in history and in one other core social studies area
  3. 50 credit hours across the social studies, with at least a minor in history
  4. A requirement for a licensing test that provides subject-specific scoring

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.

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 "Closer Look" 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
Key Findings: 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 methods course.

Sum of percentages do not add to 100 because of rounding.

Four out of five subject-specific methods courses we could examine 72 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). 73

When looking for which programs are less likely to offer subject-specific methods courses, it seemed likely that smaller programs 74 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. However, 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 measure.

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 methods courses.

Student Teaching
Key Findings: 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:
  1. The program’s policy on how often a student teacher must be visited and observed and what happens during these observations.
  2. The program’s role in determining who is qualified to serve as the cooperating teacher.75
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 was observed.

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. 76

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. 77

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 Student Teaching.

Classroom Management
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.78

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 when necessary.

Key Findings: 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:
  1. 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.
  2. Maximizing learning time by maintaining student engagement and managing time, materials and the physical classroom environment.
  3. Encouraging appropriate behavior through praise and other positive reinforcement.
  4. Maintaining awareness of the classroom and using the least disruptive means to address minor misbehavior.
  5. 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.

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.

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 2014 report. 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:

  • 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 positive behavior.
  • 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.
See the research support and methodology for Classroom Management.

Selectivity in Admissions
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. 79

Diversity Concerns
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. 80

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 Selection Criteria.


Programs Can Do More
By design, this report explores the crucial basic elements that a quality secondary program must contain, the foundation on which professorial quality, assignments, required readings, opportunities for practice teaching, and other course requirements all rest. We fully acknowledge that our examination does not and cannot look at everything programs should do to better educate America’s future teachers. Nor does it measure all aspects of a high-quality program. Put bluntly, this is a survey of the minimum that all teacher prep programs should include — the floor rather than the ceiling.

Undergraduate programs preparing secondary teachers can turn to our program ratings for specific grades detailing their individual strengths and weaknesses. NCTQ provides a number of resources on its website that programs can use as a guide to improvement, including recommendations for student teaching, classroom management, content in the sciences, and content in the social studies.

The fixes are not complicated nor are they costly, especially given what’s at stake. The 43 percent of programs that fail to ensure that all candidates, not just some, leave with a firm grasp of their subject-matter knowledge need only follow the example of the remainder that do.

The implications of such a move mean that all aspiring general social studies teachers should have to take the equivalent of a minor in history, since nearly all social studies teachers will wind up teaching history — hardly a controversial position for any university to take.

While programs may claim that they cannot increase requirements, our analysis of programs’ science semester credit hours shows that programs with certification routes earning an F can increase their breadth by redistributing the hours they already require.

The 24 percent of programs that fail to require a methods course that is specific to a teacher’s intended subject area need to abandon the ubiquitous general methods course so that future teachers can be shown the instructional techniques most effective for the courses they will be teaching. Such an investment may seem too costly for a small program with only a few candidates in each subject area, but the fact that most small programs are able to provide such courses should be persuasive enough evidence for any dean to use in his or her discussions with higher-ups, even if it means substituting a live classroom experience with one online.

Unfortunately, this is work — addressing deficiencies in either subject-matter preparation or how to teach that subject matter or both--that the majority of secondary programs in the United States must tackle.

Full list of programs can be found here.

States Can Do More

State requirements influence how well teacher prep programs prepare secondary teachers in their intended subject area. When programs know that they have to prepare their aspiring teachers for state licensing tests in their subjects, they generally design their courses and requirements accordingly. For instance, we found some evidence suggesting that, on average, programs in states with an English test require more English courses. However, only three states achieved this aim across all certifications (Arizona, Minnesota, and Missouri), while the rest need more work on their tests. In the states that lack such guardrails, the quality and depth of subject-matter preparation in untested subjects is left entirely up to the teacher preparation program.

Since college undergraduates can only take a limited number of courses, limiting broad multiple-subject certification to fewer subjects with relevant or related content would build stronger, more knowledgeable teachers. For instance, perhaps an astronomy major should be able to teach physics but not biology, or maybe an anthropology major should be allowed to teach sociology but not economics. However, if states are not yet ready to take this step, they could strengthen the quality of this training by requiring significant coursework in the multiple subjects a teacher will be licensed to teach and by mandating a subject test before licensure.

School Districts Can Do More
School districts should have functioning partnerships with teacher prep programs. Districts supply high school graduates who aspire to become teachers, employ prep programs’ graduates, and offer classroom placements for student teachers. As a result, school districts should have substantial leverage over teacher prep programs, leverage that almost always goes unused.

Districts that are dissatisfied with the quality of graduating teachers can tap all three roles to pressure programs to improve:
  1. School guidance counselors can use NCTQ’s ratings in talking with high school seniors who aspire to become teachers, steering their students to apply to higher-rated programs.
  2. Schools can choose to accept student teachers only from programs that earn high grades in this analysis.
  3. When hiring new teachers, schools can actively recruit from top-scoring programs, and district human resources teams can consider the quality of preparation when evaluating applicants.
By using these leverage points, schools can pressure their local prep programs to improve and better prepare new teachers.


These findings are especially alarming in the STEM fields. Research and just plain common sense tell us that high school teachers with solid subject-matter expertise are more effective. If we want our economy to grow through more students entering STEM fields, our high school science teachers will need to know the research-proven content and teaching methods necessary for students to master this vital material.

States, schools, and leaders of teacher preparation programs have the ability to demand higher-quality preparation for future teachers by instituting subject-specific tests or perhaps even limiting the use of multiple-subject teacher certifications. They also can change the selectivity, content requirements, oversight of student teaching, and provisions for method courses of the programs themselves. While this study demonstrates that most programs are at least partially satisfactory, too many inadequate programs continue to graduate teachers who lack knowledge of content, teaching techniques, or classroom-management skills. As a result, too many high school students miss out on a learning experience that their high school years should provide while their teachers teach themselves what their teacher prep programs neglected.


Project Lead:
Robert Rickenbrode, Senior Managing Director Teacher Preparation Studies

Technical Lead:
Jeff Hale, EFA Solutions

Sam Lubell (lead), Graham Drake, and Hannah Putman

NCTQ staff:
The entire Review team including Graham Drake, Julie Greenberg, and Laura Pomerance as well as Kathleen Bolles, Stephen Buckley, Sarah Brody, Eric Duncan, Nicole Gerber, Karen Gray, Nithya Joseph, Amber Moorer, Hannah Putman, and Lisa Swanson.

Subject specialists:
Mary Alibrandi, Sarah Carlson, Susan Clarke, Aileen Corso, Gordon Gibb, Robert P. Marino, Michael Savoy, Carrie Semmelroth, Julie Shirer, Jamie Snyder, Jessica Turtura, and Shirley Zongker

Lead analysts:
Tara Canada, Jess Castle, Michelle Crawford-Gleeson, Cathy Guthrie, Christine Lincke, Alexandra Vogt, and Laura Updyke

Christian Bentley, Theodora Chang, Kimberly Charis, Katherine Bradley-Ferrall, Erin Carson, Susan Klauda, Michelle Linett, Karen Loeschner, Rosa Morris, Ashley Nellis, Shobana Sampath, Thisie Schisler-Do, Candice Schultheis, Winnie Tsang, Patricia Vane, Mariama Vinson, Jeanette Weisflog, and Julie Wilson

External support:
Colleen Hale of EFA Solutions (graphic design), Lisa Cohen (communications), David Flanagan (illustrator), and William McCloskey (illustrator)

Technical Panel for the Review:
David W. Andrews, Sir Michael Barber, David Chard, Ed Crowe, Harriet Fayne, Dan Goldhaber, Kati Haycock, Edward J. Kame'enui, Cory Koedel, Thomas Lasley, Doug Lemov, Meredith Liben, Linda Ann Patriarca, Mark Schug. In memoriam: Barry Kaufman and Sam Stringfield

Audit Panel for the Review:
Dr. Rebecca Herman, Dr. Amber Northern, Dr. William H. Schmidt, and Dr. Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst

NCTQ leadership:
Board of Directors: John L. Winn, Chair, Selma Botman, John Connolly, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Ira Fishman, Marti Watson Garlett, Henry L. Johnson, Paul Kihn, Thomas Lasley, F. Mike Miles, Hugh Norwood, Carol G. Peck

Kate Walsh, President

NCTQ receives all of its funding from foundations and private donors. We thank them for their generous and sustained support of the Review. 
The Achelis Foundation
The Anschutz Foundation
Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock
Barr Foundation
The Belk Foundation
The Boston Foundation
The Bruni Foundation
Chamberlin Family Foundation
Charles Cahn
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Finnegan Family Foundation
The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation
J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation
The James M. Cox Foundation
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Longfield Family Foundation
The Lynch Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Osa Foundation
The Powell Foundation
The Sartain Lanier Family Foundation
Searle Freedom Trust
Sid W. Richardson Foundation
The Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation
Trefler Foundation
Walker Foundation
William E. Simon Foundation
Anonymous (3)