Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Education Programs Assail 'U.S. News' Survey

This from NPR:
Amid criticism from education reform advocates who say many teacher preparation programs provide poor training, a national organization is conducting a review of more than 1,000 programs to help aspiring teachers choose from the best. This consumer guide for prospective teachers — conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality — will be published in U.S. News and World Report next year.

But many schools of education say the effort is misguided, and they are threatening to scuttle the project.

Compiling The Stats

Teacher training programs have similar goals, but they vary tremendously. Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who is spearheading the effort, points to requirements for middle school biology teachers.

"In some places it means that teacher has to take nine biology courses, and some places it means that teacher has to take one biology course," Walsh says. She says her staff is combing through course syllabuses and entrance requirements and examining the rigor of in-classroom training.

"We want to know how prepared they are to teach reading, the mathematics preparation of elementary teachers. We're looking at whether they're at all selective," Walsh says.

It may sound like another harmless rating system for higher ed, but in the world of education, it can be impossible to get people to agree on standards. And that's exactly what's happening here.

Lynne Weisenbach, vice chancellor of the University of Georgia, says her state's institutions are doing fine. They have already been vetted by a state review board.

"The professional standards commission has high standards, and all of our institutions are accredited" by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Weisenbach says.

She says the U.S. News survey relies too heavily on documents like curriculum contents. Some teachers use materials that may not show up in a syllabus, she says. For that and other reasons, she thinks the survey will be misleading and a waste of time. So the University of Georgia has refused to participate in the U.S. News review of teacher training.

"Given the time and resources we have, we really feel that we're putting them in the right place," she says.

'A Very Strange Metric'

A number of other institutions have similar problems and may not help supply data.

Walsh says this won't stop her. She will get the information through open records requests if she has to. "These are publicly approved programs preparing public school teachers. This is information the public has a right to know," she says.

But Walsh admits that open records requests will not let her peek inside private preparation programs. And even with public programs, filing all those requests will be expensive and will make it tougher to get a complete picture.

Many schools say they feel the U.S. News ratings are just looking at the wrong indicators.

"For example, most of the indicators people are discussing have to do with inputs like the quality of the entrance requirements. That's a very strange metric," says Deborah Ball, the dean of the education school at the University of Michigan. "If I was a person looking for a program, I'd want to know what I'm going to learn while I'm there, not how selective the program is."

Nevertheless, Ball says the University of Michigan will produce the requested data.

People behind the review project say they feel as though teaching programs are reluctant to have outsiders looking in. But they say a view from the outside is just what is needed if teacher prep is ever going to undergo the changes they say are needed...

Hat Tip to Scott.


Richard Day said...

Here's another lost comment form the recent Blogger maintanence:

This is from Richard Innes:

I think some of the things that Ed schools are saying to defend their refusal to cooperate with the NCTQ survey just put the schools in an even worse light.

I am amazed that Ed schools are upset with anyone analyzing their Syllabus listings. That is an incredibly stupid position to take.

The syllabus is an agreement between the student and the school about what is to be gained by taking the course. It is also a course outline that enables the professor to stay focused, and on target.

While there seems to be evolving law on the syllabus as a formal contract, it isn't hard to find concerns with a web search that a course syllabus can become grounds for student legal action for non-performance.

The syllabus should be an accurate reflection of what the course provides. If it isn't, or if it isn't followed, that is a really serious problem (advanced courses where students actually have input into the syllabus need to clearly list that in the syllabus).

This isn’t the only evidence of problems in Ed schools. After reading Arthur Levine's "Educating School Teachers" and "Educating Researchers" (Google them), there is no doubt that Ed schools in the US have major problems.

Trying to fight off the NCTQ for wanting to highlight good and bad schools isn't helping Ed school credibility. It makes the schools look terribly ingrown and non-collegial (a charge not infrequently made by college faculty from other departments).

The smart move for Ed schools would be to provide the data and then critique the NCTQ survey after it is released. At least for the public schools, NCTQ is probably going to get the data, anyway. And, NCTQ seems determined to publish, regardless of Ed school cooperation.

However, you can bet nonsense arguments piling up from Ed schools, such as a course syllabus isn't important and worth rating, are going to provide serious grist for the NCTQ mill.

Personally, I am disappointed that Kentucky’s public colleges decided not to cooperate and then critique the NCTQ product. It just makes our Ed schools look like they have something to hide. Worse, the stupid comments being made by other Ed school people outside of Kentucky are likely to rub off on us, as well.

Richard Day said...


I agree with much of what you write, but let's clarify.

Ed Schools are not opposed to sharing syllabi. In fact, there is much more opposition to distributing syllabi in other colleges within the university - or at least, that's my experience at EKU where posting syllabi is an issue. Despite our misgivings with NCTQ, the College of Ed is in favor of sharing syllabi, most other colleges are not.

The problem with NCTQ is lousy research methodology, and initial political bias. They want to assess schools of Ed by documents alone.

Tell you what - How about I do an evaluation of the Bluegrass institute based on print documents alone. If you assure me that you will support my findings, I'm happy to do the (hatchet) job. I'm even willing to rank y'all.

No the problem is not sharing syllabi, for all the reasons you cite. The problem is the crappy design.

That said, your outline of the syllabi's importance is roughly accurate. Ed schools promote the syllabus because it's good pedagogy.

There is an argument as to whether the approach Kentucky (and many others) took is a good one. At Northwestern, as I have written, they complained mightily, but stayed in contact and lobbied NCTQ - well beyond the data they requested to review. But it paid off for the school in terms of their ranking. They would have flunked without the lobbying.

Now tell me, does that make them a good school or a bad school?

For those reasons and more, viewing NCTQ with suspicion is the only reasonable approach.

Anonymous said...

I simply do not believe it is possible to become certified in middle school science after taking only one class in biology. Please tell me a state with such low standards.