Teacher Preparation

States’ Ed. Schools Backing Out of NCTQ Review

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 19, 2011 5 min read
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UPDATE (April 20, 4:45 p.m.): Since this item was published, I’ve confirmed that several institutions in two additional states, Kentucky and New York, won’t voluntarily participate. Continue reading for the latest details.

Some public higher education institutions in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky, and New York—and possibly other states—will not participate voluntarily in a review of education schools now being conducted by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report, according to recent correspondence between state consortia and the two groups.

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

In letters to the two organizations 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, citing a lack of transparency and questionable methodology, among other concerns.

Also on March 16, the presidents, provosts, and education school deans of public universities in Kentucky wrote in a letter to the research and advocacy group and the news magazine that they won’t “endorse” the review. Phillip Rogers, the executive director of Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board, confirmed to me that this means the state will comply with public-records requests, but it isn’t voluntarily handing over information.

Finally, the chancellor of the State University of New York system, Nancy Zimpher, sent a letter April 20 stating that she will direct system officials that they “need not participate” in the review.

The situation is murkier in Maryland, Colorado, and California, where public university officials have sent letters to NCTQ and U.S. News requesting changes to the review process, but haven’t yet declined to take part willingly.

Formally announced in January, the review will rate education schools on up to 18 standards, basing the decisions primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

To a degree, whether or not public institutions participate voluntarily in the review is a bit of a moot point in the face of an open-records request. But with these letters of protest, the institutions are on record as opposing the review. They’ll have something to bring forth if they receive unfavorable ratings.

To date, NCTQ has sent requests for information and public-records requests to institutions in Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The states have thus far been quite cooperative, according to NCTQ’s director for the project.

The recent action is in addition to separate letters raising concerns about the review sent by state associations of teacher education colleges. These associations typically count both public and private colleges of education as members. NCTQ and U.S. News have received letters from the Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia chapters. They appear to be leaving the decision to take part up to their member institutions, in much the same way that the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is doing.

You can read some of the correspondence on NCTQ’s new “transparency central” website. It lists the number of participating institutions in each state and the number of institutions in the state to which the council has submitted an open-records request.

Additional correspondence will be put up on the website as requests for information go out to more states and institutions, said Arthur McKee, who is directing the project for NCTQ.

If you’re new to this debate, here’s an Education Week story with some background for you. The review has been in the works for about a year, but its official “launch” brought protests from deans at schools affiliated with the Association of American Universities and from another group of deans whose institutions had received grants from the Spencer Foundation. [UPDATE (April 21): A source says these are used to improve research training for doctoral candidates.]

In response, NCTQ and U.S. News hosted a couple of webinars in February and made a presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s conference, in San Diego. The review partners said they’d no longer issue failing grades to colleges that don’t participate, instead giving “estimated” scores. They agreed to allow institutions to publicly challenge ratings and make those challenges and responses public on NCTQ’s website. And finally, they’re developing another outcome-based standard based on “value added” data for states such as Tennessee and Florida that can link recent graduates back to their preparation programs, in response to complaints that the review was too focused on syllabuses.

If the recent correspondence is any indication, such actions don’t seem to have done much to reassure the teacher-preparation field at large. Take, for example, this letter from the Council for Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions. Its signatories insist that institutions should not be given scores at all if they don’t want to participate.

There are a couple of related issues worth teasing out here. One has to do with an emerging subtext about which standards really matter for teacher preparation and how institutions should be measured against those standards. Several of the letters from the states reference state-approval standards, regional accreditation standards, (voluntary) teacher education accreditation standards, and the standards promulgated by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium. Many of those standards have been put together by the education field, as in other professions, these officials argue, and are based on research and consensus about good teaching,

NCTQ, in general, contends that such standards are too vague—and in any case, points to the fact that few institutions have failed to meet them over the years.

We’ll soon have upgraded sets of standards to debate: Two teacher education accreditation bodies are merging and plan to upgrade their standards. And the Council of Chief State School Officers is finalizing a new version of the InTASC standards. So expect more on this topic to come.

Second, the transparency question seems worthy of additional attention. Should private institutions that produce public employees, like teachers, participate in these kinds of reviews?

And here’s a question for NCTQ and U.S. News: What’s incumbent upon them to release? They’ve released the indicators for each of the review’s standards but won’t release the scoring guide, something several of the school groups have requested.

We’ll have more for you soon. This review, and all the issues it’s raising, isn’t going to be going away anytime soon.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.