June 18, 2013

University programs that train teachers get mediocre marks

Lyndsey Layton / The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

But teacher preparation programs vary from school to school, and each state sets its own licensing requirements. Most programs are run by universities. Others are run by nonprofit groups or school districts. They each have their own standards of admission and completion requirements.

A 2007 McKinsey study found that 23 percent of U.S. teachers graduated in the top third of their class, while that figure was 100 percent in Singapore, Finland and others whose students lead the world on international exams.

To improve quality, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has proposed a rigorous professional exam for teachers, akin to the bar exam for lawyers, and wants universities to get more selective, requiring a minimum 3.0 grade-point average to enroll in teacher preparation programs and to graduate. The effort has stalled because of a lack of funding, AFT president Randi Weingarten said.

About half the states have agreed to raising admission standards to education programs, but only a handful have acted.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said the organization developed the ratings because it was frustrated by too much talk and not enough action.

"Our feeling is if we gave consumers more information, we could help to drive business and students to high-performing programs and away from low-performing ones," Walsh said, noting that the ratings reflect the content of what is taught and not the quality of instruction. "This is a market strategy."

The review was funded by 62 organizations, led by the Carnegie Corporation and the Broad Foundation. The National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed admissions standards and inspected syllabuses, textbooks and course requirements and rated 1,430 programs on a scale of zero to four stars. The organization did not visit the schools or interview students and faculty.

"Take it with a salt shaker full of salt," said Linda Darling Hammond, an expert on teacher education at Stanford University.

Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, which received one and a half stars, said he would study the review to see whether U-Va. could learn from it. "Almost everyone who's working in teacher preparation now explicitly acknowledges we need to do a better job," Pianta said. Still, the review is limited, he said. "This is a paper audit, really. It doesn't dive into whether schools are implementing these programs very well or students are learning what they should be learning."

George Washington University was among the lowest-ranked programs in the country. It received this warning from the council: "No prospective teacher candidates should entrust their preparation to these programs because candidates are unlikely to obtain much return on their investment."

Like many other universities, George Washington did not cooperate with the organization, leaving the reviewers to collect syllabuses and course requirements through unofficial channels. "It is important to note that although (GWU) did not participate in this project, our faculty, staff, and students welcome the opportunity to study the report to see what can be useful to us as we strive toward continued excellence in the preparation of future teachers," the dean of the program, Michael Feuer, wrote in a statement.

Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools, said he is concerned that the new ratings amount to teacher bashing.

"I would imagine that not all Ph.D. programs in molecular biology are the same and not all law schools are the same," Starr said. "Teacher prep is like any other part of American education. There is great variability. . . . I get concerned about the drumbeat of debasing anything related to teachers these days."

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