Teacher Training Falls Short
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has issued a report on more than 1,100 teacher preparation programs in the nation. In conjunction with U.S. News and World Report, the study found that mediocrity is the norm in teacher training. Some fault the methodology and focus of the NCTQ review, but even critics of this particular survey can find fault with teacher training.
“NCTQ used course requirements, syllabi, employer surveys, and detailed student-teaching contracts, among other documents, to score undergraduate and graduate teaching preparation programs. . . . It then assigned an overall program rating on a scale of zero to four stars, four being the highest.” (U.S. News and World Report, 6-18-13) Only four universities received the highest ranking of four stars: Vanderbilt, Furman, Ohio State, and Lipscomb. No elementary education program earned a four-star rating.
Over half of the programs, 700, ranked two stars or fewer, which “connote[s], at best, mediocrity.” Education programs at 162 universities received no stars, “meaning they fail to provide ‘even minimal training.’”
The editor of U.S. News and World Report wrote:
Teacher programs are accepting many unqualified students and then failing to educate them in the best methods of teaching reading, math and other subjects. They are not training them in how to manage a classroom, or having them student-teach with well-qualified teachers.
RealClearPolicy.com reviewed the report and stated:
Nearly 75% of elementary-school teacher programs fail to teach proven methods of reading instruction. Instead, education schools often counsel teacher candidates to develop their ‘own unique approach’ to teaching reading — even though proven methods can reduce the proportion of students whose skills remain at substandard levels from 30% to 10%. (7-1-13)
One of the criteria that NCTQ used to judge schools of education was how well they were teaching future teachers to align with Common Core. This may be a questionable criterion. It is quite possible that the schools didn’t even know Common Core standards were coming and were taken just as off-guard as parents and most state legislators.
Critics of the survey also mention that the report should have included on-site visits to the education programs.
More Evidence of Mediocrity
In 2009, Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia Teachers College, told National Public Radio, “Education schools have, in many cases, become irrelevant and often of very low quality.” He studied the “crisis” in classroom teacher training and found that “senior professors don’t participate in schools,” and that some teacher colleges “place their students for student-teaching in failing schools with failing teachers.” (NPR.org, 9-30-09)
The book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, published in 2011 and based on research by the Social Science Research Council, reported education majors are among those students with the lowest level of increase in critical-thinking skills during their college careers. The report offers a qualifier that this may be partially due to a lack of challenging reading and writing assignments in the major. (InsideHigherEd.com, 1-18-11)
Locking Out Experts
The best and brightest are not applying to schools of education. Additionally, experts in important fields of study, notably STEM, cannot teach because they do not have “certification,” a criterion favored by teacher unions to control the ranks of teachers. A qualified scientist, mathematician, or computer scientist is prohibited from leading a classroom in many states. In order to teach, these individuals would be required to take education classes. Some argue that what prospective educators know about their subject should take priority over their having certification, especially in light of widespread criticism of the certification process and the content of education classes.
Do education classes teach teachers how to teach? Certainly some do, but some simply propagandize education majors. At Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School of Education, Education 2920 (Social and Philosophical Aspects of Education) is described as: “Exploration of the interaction between contemporary social problems and various philosophies in relation to educational theory, policy, and practice.”
Barack Obama is featured on the cover of both the 15th and the 16th edition of the textbook required for this class, American Education by Joel Spring. Other books written by the same author include: How Educational Ideologies are Shaping Global Society; Globalization and Educational Rights; and Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. Would taking this education class better enable a mathematician to teach calculus to students? A biologist to teach biology? A physicist to teach physics?
The New York City Experiment
In August, New York City released scorecards on the dozen teacher education programs in the city that supply the most new teachers to city schools. The Teacher Preparation Program Report ranked local programs according to the “quality, distribution, and retention of new teacher hires” from 2008-2012. Criteria included:
. . . the number of teachers with highest need licenses such as special education, science, and English as a Second Language; the number of teachers entering the City’s highest need schools; teacher growth scores on 2012 State tests in 4th through 8th grade math and English; the results of tenure decisions; the number of teachers rated ‘unsatisfactory’; and teacher retention after three years within the DOE system.” (NYC Schools.gov, 8-14-13)
The rankings don’t so much rate the schools themselves as how well the schools of education meet the needs of NYC schools. Broken out into categories the scores are useful; one in five recent graduates of teaching programs at Columbia University and New York University received low marks for how much they were able to improve student test scores. Citywide, 80% of recent hires still worked as teachers in the system three years later. The goal of the rankings according to education officials is to “focus on identifying and sharing effective practices.” (New York Times, 8-15-13)
Educators for Social Justice
Some teacher education programs have wandered “far from the mission of imparting knowledge, to the goal of social change.” Just as insidious as training teachers poorly is teaching education majors propaganda. Books by socialists Bill Ayers and Paulo Freire are standard fare for education students. Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute calls Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed “a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies.” (City Journal, Spring 2009) Knowledge has become secondary to training teachers to be “change agents” ready to fix society using “social justice.”
The chancellor of New York City schools said of the city’s new teacher education ranking system, “By working with education schools to better prepare incoming teachers for the needs of our system, we’ll be able to build on the historic outcomes we’ve delivered for our children.” He also stated that teachers are the “game changers” for students.
Certainly teacher quality and schools of education aren’t the only reason to worry about public education in America. But improving them — and making certain that future teachers focus on actual knowledge and how to best impart it to students — would improve education overall.