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Teacher training: 'Industry of mediocrity,' says controversial report

Quantity over quality? Teacher training programs are turning out too many teachers, says a new review from the National Council on Teacher Quality, and they're poorly equipped to face the classroom.

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— Only 7 percent of programs ensure student teachers are partnered with effective classroom teachers. Most often, a student teacher is placed into a classroom where a teacher is willing to have them, regardless of experience.

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— When asked how much experience they have, the most common answer from teachers is one year. First-year teachers reach around 1.5 million students.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group founded in 2000 to push an education overhaul that challenges the current system, has on its board veterans of the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

For its review, the council identified 18 standards for teacher preparation programs, such as instructing would-be educators how to implement Common Core State Standards, teach non-native English speakers and manage classrooms. The group spent eight years narrowing the standards and did 10 pilot studies to make certain their criteria were fair but tough. One pilot program in Illinois included 39 standards.

In all, the report looked at 1,130 teacher preparation programs. The students in those programs represent 99 percent of traditionally trained teachers.

"By providing critical information both to aspiring teachers so they can make different choices at the front end, and then to school districts at the back end looking to hire the best-trained new teachers, reform need not rest on either good will or political will," the report's authors wrote.

To reach their conclusions, the investigators requested tomes of information from education programs, such as admission requirements, course syllabi, textbooks and graduate surveys. They did not visit programs or interview students or schools that hired graduates, one of the persistent criticisms of the review.

Only 114 institutions chose to cooperate with the review. About 700 institutions objected in letters to council's partner, U.S. News & World Report, to the council's methodology. Some told students not to cooperate with requests.

"I think NCTQ points out that we are probably under-equipping teachers going into classrooms," said David Chard, dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University.

His program cooperated with the council's review and won only two out of four possible stars.

At schools that did not cooperate, investigators asked students, book stores, and professors to share their course documents, reading lists and policies. In some cases, the council filed lawsuits to collect those documents.

The researchers spent an average of 40 hours in grading each education program.

As soon as plans for the review were announced, the council faced persistent skepticism and strong opposition.

"If this were a research paper produced by a student, it would get a failing grade. To use this as a means of rating institutions is ridiculous," University of Kansas School of Education Dean Rick Ginsberg said.

His school did not cooperate and the council was unable to collect enough documents to assess the program.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten called the review a "gimmick."

She said she agrees on the need to improve teacher preparation, but "it would be more productive to focus on developing a consistent, systemic approach to lifting the teaching profession instead of resorting to attention-grabbing consumer alerts based on incomplete standards."

The profession's accreditation panel was more muted.

"The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation is still examining the report," president James G. Cibulka said.

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