NCTQ Review on Teacher Prep Replete with Significant Data Gaps

According to the NCTQ, teacher preparation in the U.S. is failing, and again according to them, there is a significant data gap on what’s working.

Their stated goal is to fill this gap by providing those who want to be teachers to become “strategic” consumers by providing them with a ranking of the teacher prep programs in the country.

NCTQ states that its strategy is based on the review of medical education in the U.S. sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and completed by Abraham Flexner in 1910, titled Medical Education in the United States and Canada (access to the original document). However, to suggest that in the year 2014 that the preparation of teachers is in the same state as was medical education in 1910 is to be misinformed.  The preparation of teachers developed and changed in ways similar to the preparation of physicians over the past 100 years.

In this post, I provide data to show that the NCTQ review of teacher preparation is a failed effort, and does not come close to helping anyone understand teacher education, unless you work for them, or the Fordham Foundation.

What is the Flexner Report and What Does NCTQ Fail to Tell About it?

In 1910, there were 155 medical schools in North America.  Flexner visited all 155 medical schools.  As Flexner points out in his study of medical education, many of the medical schools then were “trade” schools owned by one or a few doctors.  At the time, medical training was unregulated, and his report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission standards and graduation standards.

In 2014, NCTQ identified 1,127 institutions that supported teacher preparation.  The NCTQ did not visit any of these schools.  Table 1 shows the comparison of schools visited by Flexner and the NCTQ in their respective studies of medicine, and teacher prep.  There is something wrong with the approach taken by NCTQ.  In 1910, teacher preparation in America already had 70 years of experience, and many major universities were sites for the preparation of teachers.

Table 1. Comparison of the Flexner and NCTQ Reviews

Table 1. Comparison of Schools Visited in the  Flexner and NCTQ Reviews of Medicine and Teacher Prep

Flexner’s report was a thorough study of medical education in North America, and it’s unfortunate the NCTQ identifies its review of teacher prep as in the same league as the Flexner report.  It’s not.  The Flexner report was a scientific study of medical education in North America.  It includes a detailed review of the literature and history of medical education in North America.  Flexner examined early and historical essays on medical training going back as far as 1750 with the establishment of America’s first at the College of Philadelphia in 1765.

The NCTQ report is not a scientific study of teacher preparation The NCTQ ignores the history of teacher prep in North America, and has never published a review of the literature or history of the long history of teacher prep in the United States.  And, instead of learning from teacher educators about teacher preparation, they refused to visit any institutions and used strong arm tactics to get documents such as course syllabi.  They had to do this because many teacher preparations didn’t return NCTQ’s call!

Teacher preparation, like medical education has a rich history.

When I decided to become a teacher, I applied and was accepted at Bridgewater State Teachers College, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1840 by Horace Mann as the second teacher prep institution in America, as the Bridgewater Normal School. (The first normal school was founded in 1839 in Lexington, MA, where I taught high school back in the day).  Bridgewater is the oldest institution of public higher education in Massachusetts, and is regarded as the “home of teacher education” in America.  It took its present name, Bridgwater State University in 2010.

The teacher preparation that I received at Bridgewater was based on the laboratory school model in which the university supported a laboratory school which provided clinical teaching experiences for its students.  As prospective teachers, we taught in the lab school as interns during our 3rd year, and then did a full internship (student teaching) in a Massachusetts public school.  The laboratory school (Burnell Campus Laboratory School) at Bridgewater began in 1840, and except for a few years in the mid-1880’s, it remained open until 2010.  The laboratory school, which was promoted by John Dewey as an environment for teacher development and curriculum reform, substantiated the importance of teaching students as main focus of teacher prep. My experience at Bridgewater would influence my approach to teacher preparation at Georgia State University in the years ahead.  Clinical and experiential learning would be focal points for my work in teacher prep at Georgia State University.  Combined with theoretical application and integration with the works of  John Dewey, Maria  Montessori, Abraham Maslow, Margaret Mead, Carl Rogers, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and the rich body of research in teacher education and science education, we developed humanistic and progressive models of teacher preparation.

The history of teacher preparation in the United States rivals the precarious history of medicine, law and theology in American universities.

NCTQ failed to explain this.

The Flexner report provided recommendations for the improvement of medical education in North America when there was a real need to do so.  The establishment of “professional” schools in American universities had just begun, and there was resistance by some academics as to the viability of trade professions like medicine and law.

But Flexner was a research scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Flexner’s view was that medical education should follow the same path as the kind of thinking in the natural sciences, and suggested that medical training be as intellectual for doctors as it was for physicists.  Flexner criticized deeply the profit motive that dominated medical training in the U.S. at the time.  Flexner believed that the university hospital setting was ideal for medical prep because research would arise out of patient care and these teacher-medical-educators would thus teach their students.  He even had a motto, “Think much; publish little.”

Within the same time frame as the Flexner Report, élite universities moved into the business of teacher preparation.  The University of Iowa, The University of Michigan, Columbia Teachers College, University of Chicago, Standford, Ohio State, Harvard, and Berkeley entered the field, in that order.  Although Normal Schools primarily prepared elementary teachers, these universities focused on the preparation of secondary teachers and school administrators, and production of educational research.  Just as Flexner believed that medical education should focus on patient care, normal schools championed the same belief by focusing on practical preparation methods.  Teacher preparation at élite universities, however, took a different path, one that focused on research.

By the time I entered the field of teacher preparation, I had already studied science and education at Bridgewater State, Boston University, Illinois Institute of Technology, and The Ohio State University.  I became a faculty member in the first year of the College of Education’s existence at Georgia State University (GSU).  It was 1969, and by this time, normal schools had evolved into regional state universities with their own colleges or departments of education, and larger and élite universities had formed colleges of education on the same par as colleges of arts and sciences.  GSU was breaking ground with its first college of education in an urban environment and in a public school environment that had just begun to integrate its K-12 schools.

During the period of 1970 – 2010, American universities had incorporated teacher education into its structure, and for the most part, no professional schools (medicine, law, education) existed outside the university as a stand alone institution.

For at least 100 years, teacher preparation has experimented with different models to prepare teachers.  Colleges of education have provided universities with many students, most of whom take courses in other colleges across the university campus.  For example, nearly all the teacher education candidates that I worked with for over 30 years arrived at GSU with degrees in science, mathematics or engineering.  Their course work was based on the content domains in colleges of arts and science, or engineering.  In fact, a number of our students came from Georgia Tech, which just a few miles away from GSU.

NCTQ Did NOT Review Most Teacher Preparation Programs

Figure 1. Percentage of teacher education programs NOT reviewed at University System of Georgia teacher prep schools.

Figure 1. Percentage of teacher education programs NOT reviewed at University System of Georgia teacher prep schools.

Across the country, teacher education has done a balancing act between academic research and clinical teaching.  Powerful teacher education (Library Copy) programs are rooted in clinical experience for teacher candidates and are based on high standards in the context of a strong curriculum.  In 2006, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond released a report that rivals that of the Flexner report.

The NCTQ would have you believe that it has identified high-caliber teacher prep programs, along with rating others to form a rank ordered system.  The truth is that they have little to no idea about which programs are of high quality because they never visited any, and they failed to investigate at many as 80% of the programs that are offered in higher education institutions.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of teacher education programs that were not reviewed by the NCTQ.  The chart shows the top 10 producing state universities in Georgia, as well as the remaining 11 universities clustered as a group.  The NCTQ review on teacher preparation is replete with significant data gaps.  The fact they reviewed very few programs in Georgia is a testament to their anemic review.

Their review is nothing compared to the report issued by Abraham Flexner more than 100 years ago.  Shame on them for thinking that they can associate with Mr. Flexner (who, by the way, with Louis Bamberger founded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton).

What do you think about the NCTQ review?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University