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.
WASHINGTON — The nation's teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom, even as they produce almost triple the number of graduates needed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 programs released Tuesday.
The National Council on Teacher Quality review is a scathing assessment of colleges' education programs and their admission standards, training and value. The report, which drew immediate criticism, was designed to be provocative and urges leaders at teacher-training programs to rethink what skills would-be educators need to be taught to thrive in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.
"Through an exhaustive and unprecedented examination of how these schools operate, the review finds they have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms" with an ever-increasing diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic students, the report's authors wrote.
"A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars," the report said.
The report was likely to drive debate about which students are prepared to be teachers in the coming decades and how they are prepared. Once a teacher settles into a classroom, it's tough to remove him or her involuntarily and opportunities for wholesale retraining are difficult — if nearly impossible — to find.
The answer, the council and its allies argue, is to make it more difficult for students to get into teacher preparation programs in the first place. And once there, they should be taught the most effective methods to help students.
"There's plenty of research out there that shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor," said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a supporter of the organization's work.
Democrat Markell said: "We have to attract the best candidates" possible.
To accomplish that goal, Markell earlier this year signed into law a measure making admission to education programs more difficult in his state. Potential teachers must either post a 3.0 grade point average or demonstrate "mastery" results on a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT before they're even admitted to a program.
It's an idea the council has applauded and suggests other states should consider to limit the number of candidates entering teacher training programs.
"You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools," said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement. "If policymakers took this report seriously, they'd be shutting down hundreds of programs."
Some 239,000 teachers are trained each year and 98,000 are hired — meaning too many students are admitted and only a fraction find work.
Among the council's other findings:
— Only a quarter of education programs limit admission to students in the top half of their high school class. The remaining three quarters of programs allow students who fared poorly in high school to train as teachers.
— 3-out-of-4 teacher training programs do not train potential educators how to teach reading based on the latest research. Instead, future teachers are left to develop their own methods.
— Fewer than 1-in-9 programs for elementary educators are preparing students to teach Common Core State Standards, the achievement benchmarks for math and reading that have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia. For programs preparing high school teachers, that rate is roughly a third of programs.
— 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.
— 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.
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.