By Victor Skinner
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Education reformers have long suspected that many teacher colleges are doing a poor job of preparing new educators for their chosen profession.
As a result, many of those new K-12 educators struggle to help their students succeed.
That’s why the National Council on Teacher Quality launched an extensive study in 2011 to take a closer look at how teacher colleges do business, and how their practices relate to teacher effectiveness in K-12 districts across the country.
The research and policy group spent the last year attempting to collect data from teacher colleges to identify “programs that are doing the best job in preparing tomorrow’s educators, those that need to improve and those that need to be radically restructured,” according to the NCTQ website.
This April, NCTQ plans to issue a report which assigns A-F letter grades to each individual teaching program at each college. The results will be published by U.S. News and World Report.
But collecting the necessary data for the report from teacher colleges has not been easy.
NCTQ researchers have been getting blowback from officials at many colleges, particularly those associated with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Despite the fact that NCTQ’s technical panel is comprised of education experts and teachers, and the study has the endorsement of many K-12 school officials, the Association has convinced many of its members to essentially boycott the effort.
“It’s a field that has not had a lot of public scrutiny, and they’re not used to it,” Arthur McKee, NCTQ’s managing director of teacher prep studies, told EAGnews. AACTE officials “seem like they have been helping their members (colleges) and encouraging them not to work with us.”
McKee suspects many colleges have sided with AACTE, and refused to cooperate, because “they feel like if they break rank they may be ostracized.”
“In most cases teacher colleges didn’t want to work with us so we had to use public information requests, with the public (institutions), where we could,” he said.
“We were surprised not so much by the reaction by the deans,” McKee said, because previous NCTQ pilot studies resulted in critical reviews of some academic programs. “What we didn’t expect is the resistance from (university) presidents, and those higher up in higher ed.
“By and large the presidents were in support of their deans in resisting … and that was a surprise.”
NCTQ researchers began requesting information in 2011 from teacher colleges across the country, with the goal of reviewing four crucial areas of their programs: the quality of students admitted, training in the subjects that the students will eventually teach, the amount of student teaching provided, and when possible, student achievement records.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get very many people working with us voluntarily,” McKee said.
In many cases, NCTQ researchers were forced to submit legal public information requests to secure needed documents. While most colleges eventually complied with the requests, some attempted to impose substantial financial charges to release the records, and some have flatly denied the requests.
One unidentified university wanted $30,000 to release the public records, but later cooperated without charging a fee, McKee said. But many other schools asked for significant amounts of money to fill the requests.
The NCTQ responded by posting a list of the 10 most secretive institutions and how much each is asking to honor the public information requests. At the top was Alabama State University, which wanted $540 per hour for staff to produce the records. Lamar University was tenth on the list, seeking $157 per hour.
“That’s one issue we’ve faced,” McKee said of the exorbitant fees. “We also faced claims that course syllabi are intellectual property of faculty and therefore not subject to public information requests.”
So far, university systems in 26 states have sent responses to the NCTQ resisting the release of information, according to the group’s website. NCTQ has also posted its response to those institutions online in the interest of transparency.
Despite the organized opposition, NCTQ is moving forward with the project.
Last month, NCTQ released some of its preliminary findings from its teacher college study as part of its 2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, and the results were not encouraging.
One problem is a nagging lack of high admission standards for students in teacher programs. While some programs are quite selective, too many still fail to screen out the less-qualified candidates.
“Our initial findings indicate that for a sizeable share of undergraduate programs, requirements for admission to the program itself or to the institution in which it is housed help ensure candidates are in the top half of the college-going population,” according to the yearbook.
“Out of the 1,730 undergraduate programs reviewed, 556 fully met this standard. And 191 of these programs earned this rating by going above and beyond the overall selectivity of their institutions,” the yearbook reads. “However, the U.S. still has a long way to go: only 24 percent of the programs we reviewed (undergraduate and graduate) fully met this standard.”
In Alaska, Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and West Virginia, none of the college programs reviewed were sufficiently selective of students.
In other words, “There are a good number of institutions that are not doing a good job of setting the bar,” McKee said.
McKee said the goal is to incorporate the teacher preparatory review into the NCTQ’s annual policy yearbook to drive change. The hope is prospective teachers will use the ongoing study as a tool to select the best teacher colleges, and school administrators will utilize the report to recruit the best and brightest students to become teachers.
In the end, if NCTQ is successful, the group will unveil the truth behind teacher colleges that university officials obviously don’t want the public to know. The organization hopes the information produced by the study will inspire less than stellar teacher programs to improve.
“We’re thinking the market is going to help drive change in the field,” McKee said.