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?

The Art of Mingling Practice and Theory in Teaching

This article is the Fourth in a series on The Artistry of Teaching.  

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, carry out, reflect on, and test learner-centered curriculum and practice.

What is the relationship between practice and theory, and how does this relationship relate to artistry in teaching?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

If you can’t explain it to six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself

enstein_on_bikeIn my career as a science teacher educator, I valued both practice and theory.  But in my day-to-day work with people who wanted to be teachers, it was important to give a balance between practice and theory.  Indeed, in the first secondary science teacher preparation program that I had a part in designing, we engaged students in this program who held degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and engineering with students in elementary, middle and high school during their one-year program.  As Einstein also said, “if you can’t explain it to six year old, then you don’t understand it yourself.”

So, early in the student’s first quarter at Georgia State University, they found themselves co-teaching in an elementary school working with students ranging in age from 6 – 11.  We believed that if students in teacher preparation programs were going to appreciate and value educational theory, then they had to start from the practical, day-to-day experiences of elementary age students and their teachers.  In the “Science Education Phase” program, teacher education students followed the first term with an internship in a middle school teaching students ages 12 – 14, and then in the third “Phase” they did a full internship in a high school in metro-Atlanta.  The Phase Program, which was implemented from 1970 – 1983 prepared science and engineering majors to be secondary science teachers (grades 7 -12).

Because of the range of experiences with K-12 students that these teacher education students had, it was possible to mingle practice and theory, and help them construct personal and social knowledge about teaching and learning.

In Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond focused on identifying good (powerful) teacher education programs.  According to Darling-Hammond, they are rare.  In their research, seven programs were selected for intensive study (she makes the comment that there were many other candidates).  Case studies were written for Alverno College in Milwaukee; Bank Street College in New York City; Trinity University in San Antonio; the University of California at Berkeley; the University of Southern Maine near Portland; the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; and Wheelock College in Boston.  All of these programs “mingled practice and theory,” were characterized as learning-centered and learner-centered, as well as being clinically based.

Indeed, one of the characteristics of these teacher education programs was that the curriculum linked theory and practice, and one was not more important than the other.  In successful programs, which typically take more than a year of graduate work, there is a to and fro, back and forth between courses and field work.  The programs were also based on the idea that students build knowledge about teaching, and construct meaning from experience (observation, co-teaching, teaching), reflection, advanced study of pedagogy.

In the science education teacher preparation experiences at Georgia State University, students were immersed in a program that valued practical, field-based experiences and experiential learning in university courses.  Our theory of teacher preparation was to mingle practice and theory.  And, we believed that we should move in the direction of practice to theory, not the other way around.  We accomplished this in the TEEMS Program (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics & Science) which was inaugurated in 1994 and is the teacher education program for secondary teachers at GSU.

In the past, students took education courses, and then “practiced” what they learned during student teaching.

Little to No Mingling in Teach for America

This antiquated approach, however, is exactly how the Teach for America program trains candidates for teaching.  Most of the TFA graduates then are placed in schools in urban or rural areas, in schools that could benefit much more with experienced and wise teachers.  There is not enough time for TFA to advocate a powerful program that mingles practice with theory.  They are exposed in 5 weeks to education methods and then parachuted into schools unprepared for the realities they will face.

It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary teacher education, that the Teach for America program prepares so many teachers, most of whom do not have a commitment to the teaching profession, but instead use these experiences as stepping-stones to something else, and on the backs of many citizens in poor neighborhoods.

Teacher education programs that provide intensive preparation over time actually challenge students intellectually while helping them learn hands-on approaches that help K-12 students learn (Darling-Hammond).

Back to School

One criticism of teacher education programs is that they are staffed with Ph.Ds that know only about theory, and little about practice.

Disclaimer:  I was one of those teacher educators for over thirty years, and I must say that my colleagues were very experienced in the practical realities of the K-12 environment.  I guess we had bad press.  But that should change.  Read on.

IMG_0173In a research project which was just published by Michael Dias, Charles Eick, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, entitled Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach, sixteen science educators went back to school and wrote important and astonishing autobiographical papers about their experience.  They all stepped away from their role as a science teacher educator and entered the world of K-12 teaching. They immersed themselves into the real lives of students and teaching, and in this process, experienced the complexity of teaching, and in some cases the difficulty in being successful in the classroom.  The project was the brainchild of Mike Dias, Charles Eick and Lauri Brantley-Dias.

One teacher education researcher revealed, “I lacked the essential knowledge that contributed to my immediate failure as urban, low-track science teacher.”  Another colleague found that because students were not used to doing hands-on activities, they became too excited leading to the breakdown of classroom management.  Another teacher educator realized that not taking into account students’ diverse backgrounds could lead to problems of mundaneness and disconnectedness.  And, another colleague points out that his biggest challenge was to take the content that he knew and teach it in a constructivist, hands-on way that very young students could understand (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

So often teacher education is viewed as an ivory tower experience, with those preparing teachers having little knowledge or experience in real classroom actions and life.  No so with these science teacher educators.

There are 16 examples of teacher educators mingling practice and theory.  I don’t have the space for all of them, but I would like to highlight a couple of them here to support the importance of mingling practice with theory.  The following two accounts are based on (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

Charles Eick: Realistic Teacher Education

IMG_0163Charles Eick gives us his insights into realistic teacher education, a model of teacher education based on the work of Korthagen and Kessels (1999), that draws upon constructivist and inquiry-oriented science education in which teacher education moves from practice to theory, instead of the norm for teacher education in which prospective teachers learn theory and strategies first, followed by practice during internships and student teaching.  In reality, theory and practice are entwined, and Charles provides ample evidence of this.

Charles Eick asked Michael Dias, from Kennesaw State University, to work with him as the lead collaborator in documenting his experience in the classroom.  The Eick/Dias collaboration provides a model for other science educators planning to return to school to “practice what they teach.”

Working together reflectively, Eick and Dias were able to describe for us how they modified the curriculum to meet the needs of their students by including more practical activities, activities that characterized Charles Eick’s middle school teaching when I visited him more than a decade ago, and Michael Dias’ high school biology classroom.  Together they decided that activities and projects including problem solving, engineering, societal issues, and seeking creative solutions by means of technology and creative arts were just the ticket to engage the students.

One of the important aspects of this chapter by Eick, and the others is the goal of democratizing teacher education by encouraging the “mingling of minds” (Robertson 2008).  By going back to the classroom, these teacher education professors show a willingness to change one’s views on teaching, and perhaps move away from ”ivory tower” disconnectedness to the real fulfillment of teaching which arises from daily interactions with youth.

As Eick points out, this is an important aspect of realistic teacher education. Eick explains how perceptions change when one commits to a realistic teacher education approach:

We learn to accept that the classroom teacher is the expert in practice and we are the experts in theory on how to improve the practice of others to maximize student learning. They live in the ‘real world’ and we live in the ‘ivory tower’. However, when one has become both the professor and the teacher through recent classroom teaching experience, this arrangement changes. These traditional lines begin to blur. Teachers in the classroom begin to see you as having expertise in both areas. You have earned the respect as someone who ‘walks the talk.’ And this fact not only enhances your professional credentials, but also allows entrée into further school-based research, collaborative work in teaching and learning, professional development, and many other possibilities for innovative arrangements that benefit both school and university programs.

Ken Tobin: Students as Partners

Students have a source of wisdom that many teachers value in their own practice.  Research by Ken Tobin shows how collaborative self-study can mitigate the top-down reform efforts that as he suggests, “ignore structures associated with curricula enactment and seem impervious to the voices of teachers and students.” Tobin’s discussion of co-teaching (cogenerative dialogue or cogen) is a model that is relevant when we think of mingling theory and practice, but more importantly of professors’ willingness to learn from others who typically would not have been considered sources of knowledge about teaching–high school students and teachers.  And in Tobin’s case, it was a teenager from an urban school, whose population was 90% African-American, and many of them living in poverty, that provided a way forward.  Tobin is quite open about his initial failure as an “urban, low-track science teacher,” and as a result recruited a high school student (as he had asked his teacher education students) for ideas on how to “better teach kids like me.”  Respect (acceptance & trust), genuineness (realness), and empathic understanding appeared to be crucial aspects of the cogen activity that emerged from Tobin’s struggle to work with urban youth.  Tobin puts it this way:

 Although it took us some time to label the activity cogen we created rules to foster dialogue in which participants established and maintained focus, ensured that turns at talk and time for talk were equalized, and that all participants were respectful to all others. The end goal was to strive for consensus on what to do to improve the quality of learning environments. In so doing all participants would endeavor to understand and respect one another’s perspectives, their rights to be different, and acknowledge others as resources for their own learning.

One intriguing notion to take away from Ken’s research was his willingness to give voice—listen–if you will, to students. Are we willing to listen to our teacher education students?  Could our courses at the university level integrate the principles of “cogen” such that students voice is lent to determining the nature of syllabi, agenda topics, and types of investigations?  Should our teacher education courses be co-taught with experienced science teachers?  As Tobin explains, “cogen is an activity that explicitly values the right to speak and be heard.  It is also implicitly based on democratic values, and on the ideas of Roger’s theory of interpersonal relationships.  Being heard is a progressive or humanistic quality that can create an informal classroom environment enabling students who struggle in the formal straightjacket of the traditional class, a meaningful chance of success.

Return to Dewey

I started this article referring to John Dewey and his wish to create environments for social and pedagogical examination.  A contemporary science educator who speaks the language of Dewey is Dr. Christopher EmdinEmdin is an urban science educator and researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University.  His research on teaching science in urban schools focuses on Reality Pedagogy.

Here is a video of Dr. Emdin in which he takes us inside of schools to show how the practical realities of students’ lives can be a part of school science.  Here practice and theory meet in real classrooms.

Like Dewey, Emdin’s pedagogy extends beyond any existent approach to educating urban (hip-hop) youth.  Emdin’s approach is a biographical exploration of how he mingled theory and practice in urban science classrooms (Emdin, 2010).  One of his ideas that resonates with Eick’s and Tobin’s accounts is this:

Becoming a reality pedagogue not only requires an understanding of the hip-hop students’ ways of knowing, but also attentiveness to the researcher/teacher’s fundamental beliefs.  This involves awareness that one’s background may cause the person to view the world in a way that distorts, dismisses or under-emphasizes the positive aspects of another person’s way of knowing.  This awareness of one’s self is integral to the teacher/researcher’s situating of self as reality pedagogue or urban science educator because an awareness of one’s deficiencies is the first step towards addressing them.  The teacher whose students are a part of the hip-hop generations must prepare for teaching not by focusing on the students, but focusing on self.  The teacher must understand what makes her think, where the desire to be a teacher come from, and what the role of science is in this entire process”(Emdin, 2010).

Teaching is not tidy.  It involves a willingness to try multiple approaches, to collaborate with professional colleagues, and students to work through the realities of teaching and learning.  Mingling practice and theory is a powerful approach to prepare any professional, including teachers.



NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep: the Devil is in the Detail

NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep: the Devil is in the Detail.

I decided to read the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) Report on Teacher Prep to try to learn what the NCTQ had to say about teacher prep in the U.S.

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its report on Teacher Prep.  Since its release, there has been an explosion of articles and blog posts written about the NCTQ report.  If you Google “NCTQ report teacher prep” you’ll get about 51,500 results.  I didn’t look at all the results, but I did survey the first two pages and I found these results:

  • 16 articles were critical of the report
  • 2 articles were supportive
  • 1 article was neutral
  • 2 articles were links to the NCTQ report

Of the first 21 articles, 76% were critical of the NCTQ report.  Authors of these articles, which included bloggers, Dean’s of Colleges of Education, professors, and professional associations, questioned the method used.  In fact, Linda Darling-Hammond reported that because of concerns with the methodology most schools of education refused to take part in the study.  Some writers suggested that the NCTQ study was coercive, and did not ask colleges to take part or become partners in the study, but instead resorted to legal means, and the Freedom of Information Act to get their data.  But others spoke out against the partisan nature of the NCTQ which is funded by conservative groups, and according to these writers, the NCTQ is only pursuing an agenda of putting traditional teacher prep out of business, and replace it with alternative certification programs such as Teach for America.

Disclaimer: I am professor emeritus of science education, Georgia State University (GSU). I was a professor of science teacher education at GSU from 1969 – 2002, coordinator of science education and co-developer of alternative, undergraduate, and graduate teacher prep programs. I also was visiting professor in teacher education programs at the University of Vermont and the University Hawaii, Hilo. I taught science teacher education seminars for more than 20,000 teachers in the Bureau of Education & Research.
It’s a consumer report of a large number of teacher preparation programs which NCTQ claim prospective clients can use to choose a teacher prep program to attend.  However, as Linda Darling-Hammond says, the report is nonsense.

It’s a 112 page report that include colorful graphs, charts, tables and descriptive statistics. The authors? I’m not sure, but there are lots of names, hundreds of corporate and foundation sponsors, but in the end no distinct or verifiable authors. There is also no evidence that the “study”  was reviewed by respected scholars in the field of education research.

There is no review of the literature on teacher preparation in the NCTQ report.  There are some references that you have to search for in the “Notes” section at the end of the report.  These “studies” were either done by the NCTQ, or are studies they cherry picked from the literature to support their political views.

Investigating the Enemy

When you read the NCTQ report it seems as if teacher prep institutions are the enemy. For more than thirty years I’ve read and studied educational research articles published in refereed journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Science Education, as well many Handbooks of research in science education, teacher education and the learning science. In these instances, I’ve never read a study in which researchers demanded cooperation from the research participants. The NCTQ policy is very clear. If you don’t give us what we want well use legal means to get it. They also “reached out” to a few students to supply materials that were requested from the administration.

The so-called NCTQ researchers not only resort to coercive strategies to get data (syllabi, curriculum, etc.), but you get the feeling that they snoop around universities, trying to find what texts are used by bookstore shopping.

Measuring Everything Under the Sun

But here is the thing. If you look at Figure 1 (Figure 40 in the NCTQ Report), the data sources for the 17 criteria used to evaluate teacher prep institutions is spread out and far-ranging.  For each criteria there are sources within and outside the higher education institutions, but you have no idea what value is attached to each, and its kind of murky when you begin looking at each source of data.  Take course syllabi.  In many instances, NCTQ sifters had trouble getting syllabi.  Some universities refused to send them, so the NCTQ resorted to their lawyers to impose legal justification to try to get the sources of data.  Eventually they resorted to the Freedom of Information Act.

What we see here is a contentious relationship between the NCTQ and the nation’s teacher preparation institutions.  What kind of results will emerge with the aggressive nature of this “study.”


Figure 1.  This is Figure 40 from the NCTQ report on teacher prep.  I've annotated the report to point out some of its limitations.  Extracted on 6/21/2013 from
Figure 1. This is Figure 40 from the NCTQ report on teacher prep. I’ve annotated the report to point out some of its limitations. Extracted on 6/21/2013 from

NCTQ has put together a mass of data, trying to measure everything under the sun.  Yet, the kind of data that they are collecting really doesn’t tell us much about teacher preparation per se.

Figure 1 is a figure in the NCTQ report which is an analysis of the criteria used by NCTQ to assess teacher prep programs.  All of the data come from paper or online documents.  None involved interviews or discussions with people at the teacher prep institutions.  As hard as this is believe, it is the pattern that the NCTQ has followed since it was formed by the Thomas Fordham Institute.

In Figure 1, look at the left hand column of IHE’s (data sources from the institutions).  Listed are six sources of data:

  1. Syllabi
  2. Required textbooks
  3. IHE catalogs
  4. Student teaching handbooks
  5. Student teaching evaluation forms
  6. Capstone project guidelines (including teacher performance assessments)

Trained analysts then check 17 standards by using a scoring system after “a very methodical and systematic process of coding and sorting.  Analysts have been trained to follow a very detailed and systematic standard-specific protocol to make a “yes” or “no” decision about whether each of the standard’s indicators is satisfied.”

But there is so much data for each standard its not believable that any kind of reliable or valid system emerges from this “corporate spray.”  The idea is to throw as much at the wall as possible and look for what sticks.  In this case, not much.

Trophies and Stars

NCTQ Gold Trophy for
NCTQ Gold Trophy for Strong Design

Nevertheless, NCTQ charges ahead and rates institutions by standard.  If an institution meets the standard (according to NCTQ), they are awarded four stars.  Nearly meet the standard= three stars; partly meet the standard and you get two stars; meet a teeny tiny part, one star.  No stars if the institution doesn’t meet NCTQ’s standard.

The “gold trophy” is awarded on some criteria to those institutions with a “strong design.”  And they get five stars!

Because there are so many sources of data, and because many institutions simply did not want to cooperate with NCTQ, there are serious questions about the results.

For example to check how institutions selected students for their programs, there is no way of knowing the relative importance of the data collected.  This is true for nearly all of the standards used by NCTQ.

Evaluating Student Teaching: You’ve Got to be Kidding

Mind you, there are 17 standards used to “rate” teacher preparation institutions.  Each standard is scored according a list of data sources.  To give you an idea, here is how NCTQ scores the Student Teaching Standard (#14 of 17)
Evaluation of elementary, secondary and special education teacher preparation programs on Standard 14: Student Teaching uses the following sources of data:
  1. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) handbooks pertaining to the teacher preparation program and/or student teaching placements specifically
  2. Observation instruments used by university supervisors in student teaching placements
  3. Contracts and/or communications between IHEs and school districts about student teaching placements
  4. Nomination or application forms of prospective cooperating teachers that are completed by school district personnel
  5. Syllabi for student teaching-related seminars or courses
Did our esteemed colleagues at NCTQ interview program heads and professors who actually work out the details of student teaching, internships, and school-based activities?  Did they interview students in teacher education programs and ask them their opinion of various aspects of their teacher preparation?  Did the NCTQ visit and interview cooperating teachers who mentor teacher preparation students?   No.  No.  No.

Junk Thought, Junk Science

Susan Jacoby, in her book The Age of American Unreason, helps us understand the quite pervasive phenomenon in which anti-rationalism and contempt for countervailing facts and expert opinions manifest itself as the truth.  Jacoby point out that junk thought can come from the right as well as the left.  Accusing each other of irrationality thrives.  But, she suggests that junk thinkers see “evidence as a tiresome stumbling block to deeper, instinctive ways of knowing.” (Jacoby, Susan (2008-02-12). The Age of American Unreason (Kindle Location 3798). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The NCTQ report on teacher preparation is junk science.  The method that they employed in their study avoided data from the very sources that could help uncover the nature of teacher preparation.  These sources are faculty, administrators, students, and cooperating school districts and educators.  Without interviewing and observing teacher preparation programs directly, and without establishing a cooperative relationship with the these institutions, the NCTQ condemns itself to false claims, outright opinions that have little bearing on the nature of teacher preparation.

The conclusions NCTQ makes has nothing to do with the data they collected. Their conclusion is a political statement

The NCTQ is averse to evidence and scientific reasoning. Instead of reviewing the literature on teacher education programs, the nature of these programs, and what makes for effective teacher prep, the NCTQ starts with the premise that teacher preparation in the U.S. is a failure. They cherry pick studies in the literature (only a very few) that support their distorted picture of teacher prep, then use unscientific and nontransparent methods that are impossible to replicate. Honestly, I can’t figure out how they arrived at their rankings.

That is, until I read the two-page conclusion near the end of the report.

According to NCTQ, teacher prep institutions do not “arm” novice teachers with practical tools to succeed in the classroom. Mind you, the NCTQ study did not collect any data about “tools” that were or were not in the teacher prep curriculum, nor did the survey students in any program, or conduct site visits to see teacher educators at work.

Another conclusion NCTQ makes is that teacher prep programs make candidates show their feelings and attitudes about race, class, language and culture through in-class dialogue and journal writing. They never visited classrooms to observe these dialogues, nor did they read any student journals.  Again, no where in the report is there any data related to this politically charged conclusion.

None of the remarkable conclusions are related to the “data” NCTQ collected.

One more thing

Walsh and her colleagues really seem to have a disdain for teacher education. They believe that it is the job of teacher educators to train candidates for teaching much like the Teach For America (TFA) program does in its 5 week teacher prep program. NCTQ reels when teacher educators suggest that their mission is to prepare candidates, and not train them.

The NCTQ is a wonderful example of not only junk thought, but is the epitome of junk science.

What is your opinion on the NCTQ report on teacher prep?

Shameful and Degrading Evaluations of Teachers by Politicians

Photo by Suleiman on flickr

Teacher bashing has become a contact sport that is played out by many U.S. Governors.  The rules of the game are staked against teachers by using measures that have not been substantiated scientifically.  For many governors, and mayors it is fair play to release the names of every teacher in the city, and their Value-added score determined by analyzing student achievement test scores.  None of the data that has been published has been scientifically validated, and in fact, the data that is provided is uneven, and unreliable from one year to the next.

Steven Sellers Lapham, in a letter to the editor, wrote this on teacher evaluations:

…evaluating teachers on the basis on student test score data has been exposed as a fraud. The final nail in the coffin appeared in the March 2012 issue of the education journal Kappan. In the article “Evaluating Teacher Evaluation,” Sanford professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues echo the 2009 findings of the National Research Council.

Darling-Hammond writes in her research article:

However, current research suggests that VAM ratings are not sufficiently reliable or valid to support high-stakes, individual-level decisions about teachers.

Mr. Lapham adds that student test scores should not be used as a basis for evaluating teachers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just released a report on the best ways to evaluate teachers. It does not even mention such an absurd idea , much less recommend it.

With this in mind, I am going to put into perspective the reform initiative that many governors, mayors, politicians, and for-profit groups and foundation are pushing on us.  First, I’ll identify the three parts or legs of the reform, accountability, deregulation of schooling, the erosion of teacher education.

Then I’ll report a few stories from several states that will give you a feel for the extent of how teachers are coming under fire, and being held hostage by unscientific methods of evaluation.

Continue reading “Shameful and Degrading Evaluations of Teachers by Politicians”

Teach for America Rejected in Georgia’s Cobb School System

Cobb County, Georgia’s second largest school decided not to consider the superintendant’s request to hire 50 Teach for America (TFA) non certified college graduates to work in under-performing schools in South Cobb.  According to an editorial in the Marietta Daily Journal,  Dr. Michael Hinojosa, the county’s new superintendent (formerly superintendent of the Dallas ISD) had worked with the Atlanta office of the Teach for America program behind the scenes to bring the new teachers to the school district.

Teach for America recruits and then trains the teachers in 4 – 5 week summer sessions before they assume their teaching responsibilities, which are usually in low-income neighborhoods, initially in urban schools, but now in school districts that will agree to sign contracts to pay for the TFA training.

The Deal

According to an Open Records Request, Dr. Hinojosa and Shyam Kumar, executive director of Teach for America Metro Atlanta had worked together to bring 50 TFA teachers to South Cobb, and discussed ways of raising the $8,000 per TFA for summer training.  It was revealed that Kumar met with three influential Cobb citizens, including Shan Cooper (general manager of Lockheed Martin Marietta), Barry Teague (executive developer Walton Communities), and Sam Olens (Georgia’s State Attorney General), all of whom agreed to find ways of funding the effort.

It was assumed by TFA and the superintendent that the deal would be approved by the school board, but the board was unaware of any of the negotiations, or how the contract would be funded.  Before a recent board meeting, the chairman of the school committee removed the item from the agenda.  It was also revealed that the three women school board members were against the idea, while four male members of the b0ard were in favor of it.  One school board member changed his mind, and as result the chairman pulled the item.

The School District

Cobb County is located west and north west of Atlanta and includes cities and towns including Marietta, Powder Springs, Acworth, Smyrna, Kennesaw, Austell, and Mableton.  The county serves 106,000 students in 114 schools.  The ethnic breakdown of students in Cobb is as follows: White (44.5%), Black (31.2%) Hispanic (16.5%), Asian (4.8%) Native American (<0.1%)  The county employees 5,894 classroom teachers.

The 50 TFA teachers would have been place in the Pebblebrook and South High School feeder patterns, located in South Cobb.  According to system and state records, schools in South Cobb have been “under performers” based on state achievement test scores (Criterion Referenced Competency Tests–CRCT).  But many of these schools are also located in the poorest neighborhoods in Cobb County.

State testing results for 8th grade science were compared between  6 middle schools in South Cobb and  6 schools in North Cobb.  I also looked at the data available at the state DOE website to determine the percentage of students receiving free and/or reduced lunches.  In Cobb County, 43 percent (46,192) of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2011.

As seen in Table 1, there is a great disparity between North Cobb and South Cobb Schools.  CRCT scores are higher in schools with low free or reduced lunches than schools with very high percentages of free or reduced lunches.

This pattern of low performing schools in poor neighborhoods  is one that TFA uses to place non-certified teachers into schools in which students have significant learning, and social problems.   Research, which is discussed below indicates that students in low performing schools perform better when placed with more experienced teachers, or beginning teachers who have gone through a teacher education program.

Table 1. Comparison of North Cobb and South Schools on the 8th Grade science CRCT and % of free and reduced lunches.

TFA Rejected: Is this a good decision?

There are many reasons to support the decision that the school board made.

However, I am not sure that TFA was rejected for reasons that help us understand the real problems that should be explored and discussed by the school board about teaching and learning in low performing schools.

That said, the fact that Cobb will not be hiring 50 un-certified teachers is a good thing. The research on exploring the effectiveness of TFA and other non-certified teachers generally shows shows that TFA teachers’ students do not out-perform other students of teachers’ that were non-certified in mathematics, reading and language arts (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002).  Laczko-Kerr and Berliner also found students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified.  In fact, they found that students of under-certified teachers make about 20% less academic growth per year than do students of teachers with regular certification.

This is an important finding.  What it is saying is that “traditional” teacher education programs are much more effective than “alternative” programs, especially TFA.  And for Cobb County, there is really no need to recruit TFA teachers when in the metro-Atlanta area there are at least 10 universities and colleges that have vibrant teacher education programs, and provide a source of certified teachers who have gone through experienced- and field-based teacher education programs.  Indeed, many of these graduates would have completed internships in South Cobb Schools.

The decision not to hire TFA teachers is common sense.

Why would Cobb County board members think that placing inexperienced and non-certified teachers in its most difficult schools is good idea.  As one teacher said, because of budget shortfalls, the county is going to lay-off personnel.  If there are 50 teaching positions available in South Cobb, why not staff these positions with teachers who have served Cobb County for years, are experienced and certified, rather than by college graduates who have no teaching experience, and are not certified in the State of Georgia?

The research on the effectiveness of TFA teachers does not support the claims that TFA makes on its website, nor does it make any sense to educators and parents that teachers in schools with students who have not done well should be staffed with inexperienced and rookie teachers.  Would we do this in any other profession?

Teacher Education Counts

In a recent research paper entitled Teacher Education and the American future, noted education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond wrote that:

For teacher education, this is perhaps the best of times and the worst of times. It may be the best of times because so much hard work has been done by many teacher educators over the past two decades to develop more successful program models and because voters have just elected a president of the United States who has a strong commitment to the improvement of teaching. It may be the worst of times because there are so many forces in the environment that conspire to undermine these efforts.

As Darling-Hammond points out, many schools of education have made significant progress and changes in the way teachers are prepared.  She identifies schools of education in Boston, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Charlottesville, Portland, Maine, and San Antonio.  In the cases that she examined, effective teacher education programs all had a clinical curriculum which was focused on working in local schools to help candidates not only learn about the local school district curriculum, but to become immersed in diverse cultural settings.  These programs struck a balance between the practical and theoretical, and prepared teachers who were skilled professionals who knew how to make decisions about pedagogy and child development, and were prepared to assume the responsibilities of a professional teacher.

As reported in this study, “it is possible to prepare teachers effectively, even for teaching in high-need communities.”  Teacher education programs not only provide the tools for success, but as one first year teacher said about her first year of teaching:

“I’m miles ahead of the other first year teachers.  There are five other first year teachers here this year.  I am more confident.  I had a plan for where I was try to go.  The other spent more time filling days…I knew what I was doing and why—from the beginning (teacher who graduated from Mills College, CA, quote from Darling-Hammond, p. 41).

To hire un-certified teachers in high needs communities simply contributes to a national problem in which poorer communities have unequal access to quality education.  And according to today’s politicians, the most important factor in influencing student learning is the quality of the teacher.  So why does a district like Cobb county want to hire uncertified teachers and place them in the poorest schools in the county?

In the U.S., the evidence is that there is unequal access to qualified teachers, and the Cobb decision not to hire TFA non-certified teachers is not only good for experienced teachers looking for a teaching position, but good for parents and students who live in South Cobb.  For example, the graph below should the distribution of un-certified teachers by poverty (determined by free or reduced lunches), race and achievement results.  Data shows that more un-certified teachers are placed in schools which are poorer, include high percentages of minority students, and in schools in which the students perform in the lowest achievement quartile.

Source:, Accessed February 12, 2012


TFA—Be Wary of their Slogans

One of the slogans on the TFA website is:

We can turn things around.  We can put our country back on track. Let’s start today.

It appears from the graph above that TFA is contributing to the problem of America’s poorest communities being staffed by uncertified teachers. Yet TFA claims that its un-certified teachers actually have as much an impact on student performance as veteran teachers do.

Over on Anthony Cody’s website on Education Week, you will find discussion that shows just the opposite of TFA claims.  Professor Philip Kovacs wrote several posts exploring the research on the Teach for America program.  Dr. Kovacs is a professor of education at the University of Alabama, Huntsville who not only reviewed the research on TFA, but vocally opposed Huntsville School District’s hiring of TFA teachers and signing a 1.6 million contract with TFA which will provide 170 un-certified teachers over the next four years.

Dr. Kovacs wrote three articles for Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialog.  I listed them here for you to read.

Dr. Kovacs cites some of the research as referenced earlier (Laczko-Kerr and Berliner and Darling-Hammond) in this post but delves deeper into research, especially in the legal domain. Here is what he said about a recent study which looked at the placement of teachers in Title I schools:

The most recent peer-reviewed study is Vasquez Heilig, J., Cole, H. & Springel, M. (2011). Alternative certification and Teach For America: The search for high quality teachers. Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy, in press. I requested and received the page proofs as part of my research into Teach for America.

This study focuses more on the legal ramifications of changing the definition of “highly qualified” teachers so that programs such as TFA can operate under No Child Left Behind, which was supposed to make sure poor, minority students received the same high quality education by middle and upper class students.

This peer-reviewed piece appeals to me and to my city in particular because Huntsville, Alabama, is under a federal desegregation order and one of the Department of Justice’s specific complaints is inequitable distribution of teachers. Given that TFA members are only going to Title I schools, it seems to me that this particular inequity is going to increase, especially in light of the peer-reviewed pieces cited above

And Kovacs reports that the researchers of this study concluded that

This inequitable distribution of effective teachers further compounds the disadvantage that high-poverty and high-minority students are faced with in school. Children most in need of strong teachers are being denied what arguably might be their most invaluable resource–teachers, which is reinforcing the inequalities.

Dr. Kovacs was interviewed by 48 NEWS, Huntsville, Alabama by Karla Redditte.  The interview is extremely information, as are the comments that you can read at the end of the article.  Here is the interview:

My view is that Cobb County inadvertently made the right decision not to approve the superintendent’s desire to hire 50 TFA teachers.  TFA has a regional office in Atlanta, and although the superintendent said the issue will not come up again this year, he wants to improve communication with the board, and concluded that he would try again.  As superintendent of the Dallas ISD, Dr. Hinojasa was an advocate for TFA, and indeed, TFA has a big presence in Dallas.

So, if the research reported here has any bearing on future decision making on the part of the Cobb County School District board of education, then they need to educate themselves on the research not only related to TFA, but on the value of hiring teacher education graduates with full certification.