Proceed with Caution: New Report Falls Short in Complex Task of Evaluating Teacher Education

A report by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), released today, raises questions and offers judgments about selected teacher education programs in the US.  Although perhaps intended as a tool to guide program improvement and, ultimately, the quality of teaching in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the report is deeply flawed and its findings need to be viewed with caution.

A few examples of the report’s errors are enough to cause concern.  First, the results are based on reviews of course requirements and course syllabi, which are not necessarily an accurate reflection of what is taught in teacher preparation programs; available literature on differences between intended and enacted curricula seems to have escaped NCTQ’s attention.  Furthermore, NCTQ does not link these proxy variables to observations of actual performance by teachers in elementary and secondary schools.   The NCTQ report relies heavily on intuition about these issues, but our children’s education deserves better:  we would not want to rate medical education based on a review of published course requirements in medical schools and without examining the actual content that was delivered in university classrooms and without including evidence of practice in clinical settings.

Second, only about 10% of the programs that were rated actually provided NCTQ with the requested data, and there is no explanation of how institutions that did not provide data were treated.  At GW, for example, we chose to not participate in the project, largely because we were uncertain about whether the methodology was attuned to the subtle differences between teacher preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  One question, then, is what data did NCTQ use to rate our programs and how did they obtain those data?   On the other hand, NCTQ didn’t acknowledge the existence of one of our biggest programs, in Special Education.  Until these mysteries of commission and omission are solved, it is difficult for us to decide whether and how the report’s findings might contribute to our program improvement efforts.

Third, there are many errors of fact and interpretation.  For example, on the “selectivity” standard, NCTQ gives GW’s programs two stars (out of four), stating that “the program … does not require a grade point average of 3.0 or higher overall or in the last two years of undergraduate coursework that provides assurance that candidates have the requisite academic talent.”  There is little evidence that a 3.0 GPA is a proxy for such talent and sufficient to predict performance either in graduate school or, more importantly, in the workplace after graduation.  Still, at GW, 22 of the 24 students in our incoming 2013 cohort in secondary education (English, mathematics, physics, social studies, English Language Learners) had an average of 3.4.  For students who do not meet the 3.0, we offer provisional status but then require them to earn a 3.0 or better during the first nine credit hours of course work.  NCTQ obviously did not have this data, and apparently either did not read our bulletin or chose to ignore these subtleties.  As Linda Darling-Hammond has noted, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia got low marks on this standard too, because they don’t require either a minimum GPA or a minimum GRE. Reports of other errors are starting to come in.  Teachers College (Columbia), for example, was rated poorly for two programs they don’t offer.

At GW we have much to be proud of in our teacher preparation programs: our alumni have been named “teacher of the year” in a number of school systems and have received many other awards and honors, our faculty are widely recognized for their dedication and skill, and our accreditors routinely praise us for the quality of our instructional programs based on assessments that include considerable attention to actual performance.

Evaluation of teacher education is at least as complex as the evaluation of teaching, and is worthy of the best and most rigorous methods.  Reports like this one ultimately trivialize the task and undermine efforts to ensure that our future teachers acquire the skills and knowledge needed for their lives in classrooms.  There is surely room for improvement in the world of teacher preparation – as there is in all professions – but the NCTQ report provides an inadequate basis upon which to design and implement positive reforms.

June 18, 2013


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13 responses to “Proceed with Caution: New Report Falls Short in Complex Task of Evaluating Teacher Education

  1. Pingback: Michael Feuer: The Flaws of the NCTQ Report | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. But accuracy isn’t the goal of this report, of course. It was a political hatchet job from its inception, with the primary goal of helping the overall destruction of public education. Naturally, it’s crucial to undermine the public’s confidence in teacher preparation programs. And of course, it’s easy to play on public anti-intellectualism (oddly enough, combined with its overconfidence in anything that gets quantified, like GPAs, that is easy to understand (doesn’t require a knowledge of math, statistics, research methodology, or much else).

    Reports like this one are fundamentally dishonest from the outset: that there are so many errors, distortions, and serious omissions should surprise no one.

    • CitizensArrest

      In addition to the obvious truth you’ve stated here, one need look past the seductive bait of a report so highly flawed as to be it’s own parody. One of the major discernible components of the report was the degree to which it sought to verify compliance with the implementation of CCSS. Like other so called reports and analyses, it is nothing more than a sales pitch formulated to support a policy or agenda favored by the reports authors and/or the backers of their front groups. While I suspect there was a discussion by the reports backers of killing two birds with one stone, attacking teacher prep programs while promoting the CCSS, all they have succeeded in doing is throwing a handful of sand into their own eyes. Ultimately this is little more than a distraction, the real battlefield is the political arena where legislators and legislation are still for sale. Though they will never acknowledge it, the battle for the hearts and minds of parents and tax payers has largely been lost, though a rear guard action is still being fought to gain temporary support, create straw men for their opposition, and as I said before, divert attention from what is going on in the last place the corporate reformers still hold sway. Time for a big push for all of us to contact our elected allege-to-represent-us-tives. Votes can still overpower money in America.

  3. Thank you for the thoughtful commentary.

  4. Geri Nielsen

    Thank you Michael for your thoughtful and precise response to yet another very flawed document that enters our current very flawed pronouncements about education policy.

  5. Pingback: NCTQ’s Gradual Unmasking [UPDATED] – @ THE CHALK FACE knows SCHOOLS MATTER

  6. Pingback: NPE Test | Michael Feuer: The Flaws of the NCTQ Report

  7. Well, of course they were rated poorly on programs they don’t provide for the same reason that I have a very poor rating as a father of boys, since I have four daughters.
    It’s the same as rating student progress by how well they perform on standardized tests by giving them one standardized test, they should have taken more. No more wasting time teaching them to think.

  8. Reblogged this on Professor Olsen @ Large and commented:
    A scathing critique of another politically motivated salvo in the ongoing war on teachers…

  9. Pingback: Problems with new ratings of teachers colleges — point by point

  10. Pingback: EUA: ranqueamento falho | AVALIAÇÃO EDUCACIONAL – Blog do Freitas

  11. Pingback: @GovernorMarkell embraces flawed NCTQ report because of course he does. #edreform #lies #secrecy #FOIA | Transparent Christina

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