The nation's teacher-preparation programs have plenty of room for improvement, according to a new report.
A study released today by the National Council on Teacher Quality argues that teaching colleges are too lenient in their admissions criteria and have failed to prepare their students to teach subjects like reading, math and science.
The study is the group's second in two years. It found that just 17 percent of ed school programs prepare students to teach reading using all five fundamental components of reading instruction. Nearly half of the 907 elementary programs surveyed fail to ensure that candidates are capable STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – instructors.
The NCTQ argues that not only are these programs failing to train effective teachers, they're also making things harder for themselves by admitting inferior applicants. Three out of four U.S. schools that train teachers don't require applicants to be in the top half of the college-going population.
The study is a dismal read, given that the U.S. spends more than $6 billion each year to prepare teachers for the classroom.
We asked Kate Walsh, the NCTQ's president, for her take on why — if teacher-prep programs are so bad — school superintendents and administrators aren't sounding the alarm.
"There's a great hesitancy of public school educators to stand up to higher ed," Walsh explains. "They've almost been bullied by them, and one of the things (NCTQ) is trying to work on with districts is to get them to be more assertive about their needs and to say 'I'm not going to hire from you until you teach effective ways of reading instruction.' "
And the top-performing programs, according to the study? They're not the names you might expect.
The top-ranked elementary programs are Dallas Baptist University, Texas A&M University and The Ohio State University. While the top-ranked secondary programs are at Western Governors University (Utah), Lipscomb University (Tennessee) and Fort Hays State University (Kansas).
Few of the country's most prestigious programs make the cut. The report points out that sixty-eight of the top-ranked programs are at public schools that give students more opportunities to learn the tools of the trade without forcing them to take on thousands of dollars of debt.
When NCTQ released a version of this report last year, it was met with some skepticism among educators and those responsible for preparing teachers. Critics said the advocacy group should have visited individual teacher-prep programs and talked to graduates and students, rather than relying on syllabi.
Here's what's different from last year's take: instead of giving schools ratings, this year NCTQ ranked them both locally and nationally, arguing that doing so makes it easier for users to compare various teacher-prep programs.
This year's study is also bigger, including 836 institutions with ranked programs. That compares to 608 institutions last year.
NCTQ isn't the only group putting pressure on schools of education. Earlier this spring, the Obama administration said it is working on a plan to push states to evaluate teacher-prep programs, then to move more financial aid to high-scoring programs.
As Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted, there are more than 1,400 schools of education in the U.S. plus hundreds of alternative certification paths, and "nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other."
Groups like the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have also called for improving teacher prep. The open question now is, How?
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Colleges and universities spend more than $6 billion a year training teachers. But according to a new study, most of these newly minted teachers aren't ready for the job. The National Council on Teacher Quality concluded that the vast majority of the nation's teaching colleges offer little or no practical classroom training. NPR's Claudio Sanchez explains.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: The last time NCTQ put out a report on the nation's schools of education, it accused them of malpractice. This year, most of the 836 programs it looked at were mediocre, at best.
KATE WALSH: It's almost as if the teachers haven't had any training, and that's what the data show.
SANCHEZ: NCTQ president Kate Walsh says, three out of four programs do not train the teachers in crucial areas, such as reading instruction and classroom management. Nearly half of the programs responsible for producing elementary school teachers don't prepare candidates to teach basic subjects, like math, science or history. This approach, says Walsh...
WALSH: Has nothing to do with training. Has nothing to do with giving teachers the skills they need to walk into a classroom on day one.
SANCHEZ: Education school deans have roundly criticized NCTQ for ranking institutions based on what they call flimsy criteria. Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education at University of Washington Seattle says, NCTQ has clearly hit a nerve.
TOM STRITIKUS: I think we've been slow to respond to the needs of school districts. So to some extent, we've opened the door up for groups like an NCTQ to tell us what we're not doing well, so we deserve scrutiny. But it's hard to draw strong inferences about particular programs or single programs given the kind of data that NCTQ uses.
SANCHEZ: For example, it relies heavily on simple course descriptions, rather than actually talking to students or observing faculty. So it's like judging a restaurant by simply looking at its menu.
WALSH: The menu analogy is kind of right.
SANCHEZ: Again, Kate Walsh.
WALSH: You know whether you are going to go into a restaurant and have hamburgers and French fries or lobster with a nice, crisp bottle of Chardonnay. You do learn a lot from what's on that menu.
SANCHEZ: But this is not just about evaluating course offerings, says Welsh. Admission standards for teacher candidates at three out of four institutions are so low, the weakest students on campus end up in their schools of education. And that, says Walsh, has to change, too.
WALSH: Thirty-three states have passed laws and regs in the past couple of years to raise admission standards. Put in more rigorous tests that teachers have to pass before they're allowed to leave a program.
SANCHEZ: Walsh says, even the Obama administration is preparing tougher measures to gauge the quality of teachers colleges and eventually fund only the best programs. NCTQ has briefed the U.S. Education Department on what those measures might be. The University of Washington's Tom Stritikus says, he has no problem with that.
STRITIKUS: But you need multiple measures to truly assess program quality.
SANCHEZ: And that is NCTQ's weakness, says Stritikus, it's a superficial evaluation, at best, even though his school looks pretty good in the new study. It's training of special ed. teachers was ranked second best in the nation, and it's school of education ranked in the top 15 percent overall. Stritikus worries, though, that the debate over reforming schools of education is already polarized, so shaming institutions by ranking them is not the most constructive way to help them improve. Kate Walsh admits NCTQ has burned a lot of bridges by shaming some colleges of education.
WALSH: But if school districts are buying into what NCTQ is doing, if states are buying into, it it doesn't much matter. They're going to have to be responsive.
SANCHEZ: Especially now, with the arrival of the Common Core state standards and tougher tests aligned with those standards. Mike Grego is superintendent of Pinellas County schools in Florida.
MIKE GREGO: If the quality of the teacher and the effectiveness and the content knowledge of that teacher's high, that school will perform well.
SANCHEZ: Grego says, unfortunately, most of the rookie teachers who applied for a job in his district this summer lack the knowledge and skills to teach math, science and history.
GREGO: We're spending a lot of money on professional development. Last summer, we spent close to a million dollars on mathematics and science and reading and writing training.
SANCHEZ: Grego says, he supports NCTQ's work, but he's not about to use its findings to beat up on the colleges that supply most of his teachers. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.