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Critics Slam NCTQ Teacher Prep Review

A recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rating teacher education programs has been widely criticized by the education community.

The NCTQ's report, "Teacher Prep Review," rated teacher education programs at 1,130 United States institutions of higher education, assigning four-out-of-four stars to only four secondary teacher education programs and no elementary teacher education programs, and assigning one in seven programs less than a one-star rating. According to the report, poor quality teacher education programs are hurting new teachers and students.

Members of the education community have vocally objected to the report as biased and fundamentally flawed.

Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Charles E. Ducommun professor of education at Stanford University, on a Washington Post blog, argued that the report accurately focused on the most important aspects of teacher education — candidate selection, preparation for teaching reading and math, and student teaching — but that's about the only thing the report did get right.

One of the biggest criticisms of the report is that its research methodology was flawed. NCTQ did not visit any of the schools covered in its report and instead based its assessments on reviews of course requirements and syllabi. "NCTQ’s methodology is a paper review of published course requirements and course syllabi against a check list that does not consider the actual quality of instruction that the programs offer, evidence of what their students learn, or whether graduates can actually teach," wrote Darling-Hammond. A commenter on another blog likened the NCTQ's approach to a professional restaurant reviewer judging eateries by looking at menus found online.

A better measure of teacher preparation programs would have been to look at student achievement, according to Darling-Hammond. She pointed out the disparity between state rankings on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and NCTQ's report, where states that scored high on the NAEP received low grades from NCTQ, "while low-achieving Alabama got the top rating from NCTQ," wrote Darling-Hammond. "It is difficult to trust ratings that are based on criteria showing no relationship to successful teaching and learning."

Another criticism is that NCTQ's data was incomplete. According to information in the report itself, only about 10 percent of the programs rated provided NCTQ with all of the information the organization requested. At least some of the institutions refused to cooperate due to concerns about NCTQ's methodology. Michael J. Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University (GWU), wrote in a blog post that his university refused to participate "largely because we were uncertain about whether the methodology was attuned to the subtle differences between teacher preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels." For those institutions that refused to cooperate, NCTQ obtained documents through Web sites and public records requests, according to Darling-Hammond.

The report also contained numerous errors of fact and interpretation, according to critics, particularly in the area of criteria for selecting program candidates. NCTQ penalized programs that had lower incoming grade point average (GPA) requirements. According to Feuer, NCTQ gave GWU a low score for not requiring a GPA above 3.0, even though 22 of 24 of the students entering the university's secondary education program this year had an average GPA of 3.4. Stanford University also scored low on this measure because its teacher preparation programs don't require a minimum GPA or GRE for incoming students, even though those students "in fact rank far above national average on those measures," wrote Darling-Hammond.

Another criticism of the report is that it rated universities based on whether they prepare teachers for Common Core State Standards, even if the university was in a state that did not adopt the Common Core. "Scores were lowered if your program did not teach the Common Core State Standards, even if your state did not adopt them and, therefore, the preservice teachers would not encounter them in the field," wrote Darling-Hammond.

NCTQ has responded to some of the criticism in a post on its own blog, specifically relating to ratings of Columbia University; University of California, Santa Barbara; and California State University Chico, but in response to criticisms of its research methodology and scoring system, it points readers to the Teacher Prep methodology and standards pages of its Web site.

However, members of the education community are not only concerned with the flaws of NCTQ's "Teacher Prep Review" but also with the bias of NCTQ as an organization. Mercedes Schneider, a teacher and researcher with a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods, with a counselor education concentration, has investigated the NCTQ in a 17-part series on her blog, including a detailed review of the members of the NCTQ board. According to Schneider, there are "inextricable associations between NCTQ and the corporate reform agenda."

"There are many reasons not to trust the NCTQ report on teacher education. Most important is that it lacks credibility. Not only is it not a professional association. It lacks independence. It has an agenda," wrote Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and research professor of education at New York University, on her blog. "... I conclude that NCTQ cannot be considered a fair, credible, independent judge of the quality of teacher training institutions."

NCTQ plans to publish its "Teacher Prep Review" annually and anticipates "greater cooperation" from educational institutions for future editions, but judging from the response to the first edition, that cooperation may not be forthcoming.

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