Around this time next year, U.S. News & World Report will issue the first of what is intended to be an annual review of teacher preparation programs at universities nationwide in collaboration with the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based research group. Most Texas universities, though, want no part of it.
The research group says its goal is to make information about the quality of those programs available to the public in order to make sure classrooms have effective teachers. But Texas schools argue that the group’s review is too narrowly focused on process and does not account for student outcomes, and they are putting up a united front of opposition.
“We’re looking at the nuts and bolts of teacher preparation programs and seeing if they get the most fundamental things right,” said Arthur McKee, who is coordinating the project for NCTQ. The group's criteria includes the selectivity of the teacher preparation program, the emphasis it places on reading instruction, whether the training adequately emphasizes the teacher’s chosen subject and student level, and if enough student teaching is performed prior to graduation.
Of the nearly 60 Texas institutions NCTQ hopes to evaluate, only the University of Texas-Permian Basin is completely cooperating, McKee said.
Texas institutions are not alone in their opposition, though. When the project was announced earlier this year, academia around the country reacted swiftly and negatively. Administrators from the Association of American Universities, an organization that represents the country’s top research universities, sent a letter to U.S. News & World Report Editor Brian Kelly detailing their concerns. So did the president of the Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education.
Some administrators, like Jeanne Gerlach, the dean of University of Texas at Arlington College of Education and Health Professions, said costs associated with accommodating NCTQ's needs were simply prohibitive. "I understand the value and the implications of your work, but unfortunately we do not have the financial resources to voluntarily comply with your request which is outside the scope of our normal activities," she wrote to McKee.
Others responded more critically. University of Texas President Bill Powers sent his own missive to Kelly alleging that the proposed review does not recognize “the best practices and, in particular the best new practices, in teacher preparation.”
Officials at UT and other Texas schools said they have been unimpressed with their past interactions with NCTQ. Last year, the group published a Texas-centric review of teaching preparation programs that served as a precursor to the forthcoming national report. It concluded that "most — but not all — Texas teacher preparation programs come up short on their obligation to adequately prepare students for the teaching profession."
Although NCTQ said it was a fan of UT’s teaching program, it criticized the school for following state law that allows students to become certified teachers without taking what the group considers enough subject-specific training.
“We ultimately decided to shift much of our criticism of this certification route to the state, but were never able to repair the hurt feelings of administrators,” NCTQ president Kate Walsh wrote in a response to Powers' letter.
But it wasn’t only UT administrators who were unhappy. Others also argued that the criteria was outdated and that review methods did not adhere to academic research standards. Some balked at institutions being included despite requesting otherwise, and some said that NCTQ was not transparent in its dealings — a charge the group disputes.
A criticism raised then that has persisted was that NCTQ did not give enough consideration to their programs’ outcomes. Many prefer an approach like the Project on Educator Effectiveness and Quality, an endeavor being piloted out of UT that seeks to measure beginning teachers’ effect on their students’ achievement.
“We believe very strongly in outcome data,” McKee said, noting that they check to see if administrators are using outcome data to influence their decisions. However, he said, outcome-based data sets for these programs are currently hard to come by. “Why should we wait for the perfect data to come out before looking at things that are important?” he said.
In March, John Miazga, the dean of education at Angelo State University and then the president of the Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, sent Kelly a letter on behalf of more than 50 institutions declining to participate in the current review and outlining the administrators’ complaints. In reference to the 2010 study, he wrote, “We found it wanting then, and our assessment of its features has not changed.”
Among their concerns is the fact that the review will not also include alternative teacher certification programs. According to an analysis of Texas Education Agency data by Ed Fuller, a Penn State University education professor and former University of Texas researcher, more than 110 alternative certification programs produce 40 percent of all new teachers in Texas.
McKee said that such alternative routes to certification are not as prevalent nationally, so it is not necessary to include the programs. “Our review is really looking at the lion’s share of what’s going on,” he said.
“Unfortunately what we’ve found in Texas and elsewhere is that the field is in chaos. The field does not have a unified vision of what it takes to become a teacher,” he said.
Texas superintendents are mixed on the study. Kevin Houchin of the McGregor Independent School District said he was uncomfortable with the “one-size-fits-all approach” of the review. Schools already knew where to go for the best teachers, he said.
Thirty-one other superintendents, including Northside Independent School District chief John Folks, previously signed a statement supporting the Texas review, which read, "The preparation of the teachers we hire is critical to the goals that we as school superintendents share for improving educational outcomes for our students. ... The more we know, the more strategic we can be in the selection and placement of new teachers."
Folks said, “I don’t know why our teacher education programs would be hesitant to have an independent group looking at programs and rating how those programs are doing, especially if the universities know the criteria being used for the determination of the ranking.”
But the criteria are precisely the problem for many administrators. “All the criteria are things almost nobody agrees on other than the NCTQ people themselves,” said Michael Marder, a UT professor who runs the UTeach program, which prepares math and science teachers. He described the organization as “hell bent” on applying “an extremely narrow list of things that they like” across the country.
Recently, after universities put up resistance, the NCTQ began filing open records requests in an effort to obtain information for the review. Universities are allowed to charge for the work of responding, and the fees have varied drastically. West Texas A&M University said it would comply for $221.60. Meanwhile, Texas Woman’s University said the information requested would cost $4,790.
But the high costs and the pointed letters won’t likely stop the NCTQ from reviewing Texas schools.
In the past, NCTQ has physically sent people to campuses to get the information they seek — a method that did not endear the group to the campus leaders but indicates the lengths it's willing to go to for its study. “They should know that we’re using other means,” McKee said. “Just because they’re charging a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re not going to be in the review.”
Ultimately, McKee said he believes universities will come to see that they are better off participating than not. “Our stance is that we are teacher preparation’s best friend,” he said. “But we are a very critical friend.”
Dana Pemberton, the education dean at Abilene Christian University and the current president of Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said she does not disagree with NTCQ's intent. Her fellow deans also seek improved accountability systems that ensure quality programs that produce top teaching talent, she said. But the schools will remain steadfast in their refusal to cooperate with this particular evaluation.
“I’m not really worried about it,” she said. “There will be areas where they will, in fact, assess us negatively, and they will be inaccurate in many of those.”