At an event yesterday promoting a National Council on Teacher Quality report about teacher preparation (see Stephen Sawchuk’s piece), the conversation quickly became contentious when it turned to an impending teacher-education school review.
In 2012, U. S. News & World Report will publish the findings of an NCTQ review of all 1,400 schools of education in the country. Each school will receive an A-F letter grade—a notably different methodology than the college ranking system U.S. News is known for.
The study has caused a firestorm that in some ways mimics the debate over whether value-added models should be used in teacher evaluations. Critics of the study—mainly deans of education schools—say its methodology is flawed and that the letter grades will unfairly penalize schools, much in the same way teachers’ unions say value-added scores are not reliable enough to be used in high-stakes decision making.
At the event today, Susan Benner, director of the graduate school of education at the University of Tenn., Knoxville, said that, in its review, NCTQ is trying to do too much—improving academic outcomes, helping students find the right ed schools, informing policy, and transforming teacher preparation programs—with a single letter grade. “I argue that no single tool, process, or evaluation system can achieve all those lofty goals,” she said.
She also condemned what she called the “my standards are better than your standards” debate, saying it has “gotten ugly and inaccurate.” In conducting the ed. school review, NCTQ developed its own standards for teacher training, which differ from the standards used by the national accrediting organization NCATE and those used by the Association of Teacher Educators.
Benner further claimed the study’s methodology focused too much on document gathering rather than teacher performance. “The value of a teacher-preparation program is in its graduates,” she said.
Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based NCTQ, responded, “There’s some rhetorical elegance to the notion that you shouldn’t be judged by what you’re doing, you should be judged by your outcomes.” However, she said, NCTQ has “made a strong case” for examining input in “what’s been a chaotic field.” For the most part, education schools and state regulations continue to weigh inputs such as credit hours and seat time rather than tracking education school graduates.
Benner was one of several education deans who have written letters to Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, expressing concerns about the study’s methodology. Many schools have said they will not cooperate with the study, though Walsh said at the event that NCTQ will look at open records for the information if necessary. “Though I guarantee there is far more value in cooperating with us and engaging in a relative level of dialogue,” she said.
Kelly, who was in attendance at the event as well, offered a sarcastic response to the letters that received chuckles from the audience: “Who knew our education system in America was as good as it is in the minds of these deans?” Kelly said U.S. News’ role is to offer “clean, clear results” about education schools. He argued that nation’s education system needs change, and that “to suggest that there’s not something wrong is delusional.”
Although the NCTQ methodology is not perfect, he said, “the degree of perfection education deans would like us to require would get us some good results by 2050.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.