Standards

Ed. Schools Refuse to Volunteer for U.S. News Review

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 26, 2011 5 min read
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Despite changes to the process for a national review of education schools now under way, public universities that prepare teachers in Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and Wisconsin—and possibly other states—will not participate voluntarily.

In correspondence dating from mid-March and continuing through last week, state higher education leaders informed the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News & World Report, the partner groups conducting the review, of their decision.

In response, the NCTQ and U.S. News are moving forward with plans to obtain the information from those institutions through open-records requests.

“They are very threatened by an external organization passing judgment,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the NCTQ. “I hear from leadership that if we had put them at the table, they would have been fine with this effort, but in that case, we wouldn’t have had a project. Higher education is remarkably talented at putting things on a go-slow time frame.”

Formally announced in January, the review conducted by the Washington-based advocacy group and the news organization will rate education schools on up to 18 standards. They will base the ratings primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

The project has been controversial almost from the start. On the heels of its launch, several groups of education school deans protested that its methodology was flawed and incomplete, and the partners’ requests for information coercive.

Shortly after, the NCTQ and U.S News agreed to some changes to the review process. They dropped plans to issue nonparticipating schools a failing grade. And to counter the assertion that the review is too focused on program “inputs,” they will develop a standard to consider “value added” information on graduates’ performance as classroom teachers. (“Teacher-Quality Group to Revamp Education School Review,” Feb. 23, 2011.)

Not Mollified

Those actions do not appear to have assuaged the teacher education field at large.

“Serving the public does not mean that we must direct our resources as any independent entity demands of us, nor does it obligate us to cooperate with self-appointed judges who are convinced they have written the ultimate criteria for evaluation,” State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher wrote to the partners in a letter dated April 20.

In letters to the two partners dated March 28 and March 16, respectively, the president of the University of Wisconsin system and the chancellor of Georgia’s board of regents said their public institutions would opt out of the review. Also on March 16, the presidents, provosts, and education school deans in Kentucky raised similar concerns, stating they would not “endorse” the process.

Ms. Zimpher’s letter said she would inform her system’s education school officials that they “need not participate” in the review.

Public-university officials in California, Colorado, Maryland, and Oregon also have sent letters to the NCTQ and U.S. News requesting changes to the review process, but as of press time, they had not yet declined to take part willingly in the study.

Public-records laws differ by state, but most universities will likely have to turn over the information being sought once it is formally requested. For private institutions, the NCTQ will examine available sources of information, such as state accreditation reports, said Arthur McKee, the project director for the NCTQ.

To date, the council has sent requests for information and public-records requests to institutions in Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

All the correspondence will be made available on the NCTQ’s website as requests for information go out to more states and institutions, Mr. McKee said.

The recent action comes in addition to separate letters raising concerns about the review sent by state associations of teacher education colleges. Such associations typically count both public and private colleges of education as members. The NCTQ and U.S. News have received letters from the Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia chapters, Mr. McKee said.

Standards Subtext

The recent back-and-forth illuminates some of the contours of a debate about which standards really matter for teacher preparation and how institutions should be measured against those standards.

In their letters, state officials generally cited state preparation-program-approval standards, regional and national accreditation, or the adoption of standards promulgated by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium as evidence that they hold their education schools to rigorous standards.

Many of those standards have been put together by the education field and are based on research and consensus about good teaching. The review standards do not meet those criteria, critics of the project contend.

“While ... you indicate a lack of comfort with existing standards, it remains that you have absolutely no research evidence to indicate that meeting the NCTQ standards will result in improved teacher preparation—the espoused goal of the project,” wrote a group of deans affiliated with the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions.

But NCTQ contends that those guidelines are too vague and points to the fact that few institutions have failed to meet them over the years. By contrast, Ms. Walsh said the NCTQ standards reflect qualities school districts leaders say they want teachers to have.

“Schools of education have a different language, belief system, and philosophy than school districts have, and there is such a chasm between the two worlds,” the NCTQ’s Ms. Walsh argued. “It’s the only way to explain why they’d react with such hostility to a set of standards most people think makes sense.”

A spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education didn’t reply to a request for comment on the matter.

Though NCTQ officials expressed disappointment at the schools’ unwillingness to provide information, the correspondence shows the schools have lobbed a similar charge at the review partners.

For instance, several of the groups pressed the NCTQ and U.S. News to release the project’s scoring guidelines for public review, something the partners have not done.

While the NCTQ has unveiled detailed criteria, the group plans to keep the scoring guide under wraps to preserve “the integrity of the process,” Mr. McKee said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2011 edition of Education Week as Education Schools Refuse to Take Part in U.S. News-NCTQ Review

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