A Quality Check on the NCTQ ‘Teacher Prep Review’

John SenerBy John Sener

Lyndsey Layton’s article1 on the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review2 actually has a new message: How to use rankings to bash teacher training programs. And the larger message is: As a society, Americans still really don’t know how to value education.

Is there lots of room for improvement? Sure. But tellingly, the article mentions the stat about how few U.S. teachers graduated in the top third of their class (more rankings), compared to countries whose students lead the world on international exams (yet more rankings!). Yet not a word on the possible causes for this — you know, little things like teacher pay, prestige, professionalization, or other features that reflect a culture that knows how to value education.

Click to view the report.

View the report.

All you really need to know about the study is this sentence: “The organization did not visit the schools or interview students and faculty.” Of course, it doesn’t help that the WaPo article uncritically accepts the criteria used by the study, referring to “admissions standards and inspected syllabuses, textbooks and course requirements.” Imagine how long a restaurant critic would last if s/he bestowed rankings on eateries without actually visiting (“But I looked carefully at the menus! And I inspected their cookbooks and the reservation policies!”).

The actual “specialized scoring methodology” used by the study is very detailed but apparently very oriented toward meeting the Common Core standards:

Actually, the more I delve into the study, the more dismayed I’m becoming. The full Standards and Indicators section is almost more of a political document than a teacher quality document. The “Selection Criteria” (Standard 1) is essentially a single criterion: “academic caliber” as indicated by a 3.0 GPA or proxy measure. Think about that a minute — recall fondly your favorite teacher(s), the one(s) who Changed Your Life or made some small difference. Now, quick quiz: what was that teacher’s GPA in college? You have no idea, of course — nor should you, because reducing teacher qualifications to a 3.0 GPA is a reductionist recipe for destructive devolution. 

A quick glance at the other standards is similiarly disheartening. Early Reading (Standard 2) refers to the “five essential standards” as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies — guess I didn’t realize that the whole language approach had lost the war entirely. Even more disheartening is its blithe underlying assumption that teaching is simply about proper execution — all one needs to do for struggling readers, for instance, is to offer “reading courses [that] deliver the instructional strategies necessary for teaching struggling readers and require candidates to practice such strategies” (Standard 4.1). No consideration of the possible causes of their struggles is apparently necessary — the magical strategies, properly delivered by well-practiced individuals, will be enough.

So let’s be crystal clear about what this study is saying: a teacher training program is high quality if:

  • it has a syllabus that includes the right instructional strategies and requires students to practice them (4.1).
  • it prepares students to deliver the Common Core faithfully (Standards 5-9)
  • it identifies technology applications that “boost” instruction (Standard 11.1 — technology as vitamins?)
  • it teaches students to think of classroom management (Standard 10) as behavior control — staying on track is a “positive learning environment,” while any deviation from the lesson at hand is “misbehavior” and must be stopped — which is probably why something called “low profile desists” are so important (whatever the hell they are).

As the above list depressingly shows, rankings are about sorting, uniformity, and compliance, both at the individual teacher and at the institutional level (note how GWU was rather blatantly punished for failing to cooperate).

Frankly, Linda Darling-Hammond may have been understating the situation when she noted, “Take [the report and its rankings] with a salt shaker full of salt.” An entire box may be needed in this case…

1 Lyndsey Layton, “University Programs That Train U.S. Teachers Get Mediocre Marks in First-ever Ratings,” Washington Post, 17 June 2013. The article was shared by associate editor Bonnie Bracey Sutton on 17 June 2013 in the ETCJ staff listserv.

2 National Council on Teacher Quality report, released June 2013.

12 Responses

  1. I think you may want to read this one too. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323836504578551904167354358.html?mod=WSJ_article_MoreIn_US

    I am convinced that at one of the meetings , think talks at Aspen or Poptech or others that they decided to make a target .. teachers have been the target for awhile.. and now they move on to
    the teacher’s colleges. They have been demeaning college professors for a long time.

    I work with SITE.org , and the research arm is grueling. I guess reporters don’t have time to check on the things they report. I was actually at one of the meetings where the idea of common core was developed ( not my idea) over lay the same and core points across curriculum nation wide and you can sell curriculum online.
    What thoughts do you have, as we are being vilified for common core when it is just getting started …beats me.

    • Hi Bonnie,

      First of all, thanks again for sharing this report with us! Re the Common Core, here is a partial response: a recent blog post about Common Core turmoil (http://www.thesevenfutures.com/blog/common-core-turmoil-has-arrived) — Diane Ravitch’s postings on the Common Core also offer some helpful thoughts on why the Common Core is already being vilified — http://dianeravitch.net/category/common-core/

      It’s worth noting that Diane Ravitch has also already ravaged the report:

      I also just came across this response from the National Council on Teachers of English: http://www.ncte.org/cee/positions/nctqanalysis

      NOTE to Jim: while writing this article, the thought of US News & World Report rankings came across my mind as a point of comparison, but I did not know that USNWR was involved until I saw the NCTE article. Suddenly the NCTQ review makes a lot more sense in terms of its origin. If I’d have known that USNWR was involved in this report, my article would have been a lot more caustic…

      • John: “If I’d have known that USNWR was involved in this report, my article would have been a lot more caustic…”

        LOL! Yes, both are high profile. In both, stats are key, and in both, methodology is suspect, undermining the validity of the outcomes. It’s like the TV commercial, which gets a laugh out of measuring expertise in a given field by one’s stay at the Holiday Inn. What exactly are we basing our conclusions on? What are the best variables to measure to answer the research question?

        I’m afraid to think what the unquestioning acceptance of flawed studies says about critical thinking in the U.S. and what the implications are for meaningful reform.

        Most frightening is the thought that those in power may be deliberately supporting and promoting the logic that best defends their turf — regardless of validity. When this happens, we end up with decisions that serve selfish interests at the expense of social good. Perhaps the crisis in education is neither pedagogical nor technological, but moral.

    • Why the NCTQ teacher prep ratings are nonsense
      By Valerie Strauss, Published: June 18, 2013 at 1:57 pmE-mail the writer
      The National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization that is funded by organizations that promote a corporate-influenced school reform agenda, just issued ratings of teacher preparation programs that is getting a lot of attention in the ed world. The ratings are seriously flawed. Explaining how in this post is teacher education expert Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University. [Click here to read the article.]

  2. […] By John Sener Lyndsey Layton's article1 on the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review2 actually has a new message: How to use rankings to bash teacher training programs. And the larger message is: As a society, Americans still really don’t know how to value education.  […]

  3. At least in this one… they acknowledge there is controversy.

  4. The whole report is very thin… what scares me most is how many people will read it and not delve further into the methodology, resources, and claims. A Washington think tank carries credence, and many of the best education schools in the country (well-earned) are dinged in this report for reasons that are unclear and unexplained. The report continues to baffle me, and I’m on my third perusal.

  5. […] By John Sener Lyndsey Layton’s article1 on the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review2 actually has a new message: How to use rankings to bash teacher training programs.  […]

  6. Unsurprisingly, the anti-VA charge has been led by the teachers unions which constantly demonize the whole process as unreliable and unfair. But that is just a front; their “philosophy” is that there is no such thing as a bad teacher, just one that needs more training to become a good one. The reality is that unions despise it when any teacher – good or incompetent – loses a job, because it means one less dues payer. In California, for example, one less teacher means $647 fewer dollars for the California Teachers Association . And the national and local union affiliates also lose money. So keeping every body in the classroom is imperative for them.

    • Not sure how your comment pertains, Cyrus, except as a partial possible explanation of how the NCTQ report came into existence in the first place. A report with such slipshod methodology does nothing advance the cause of developing better teachers nor of getting rid of incompetent ones. (And what does “anti-VA” stand for in this context?) Blaming the teachers’ unions and trying to get rid of them doesn’t address the issue either, particularly by replacing them with vendors and other free market-driven solutions…

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