Problems with new ratings of teachers colleges, point by point

It was big news this week when a conservative organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality released ratings of teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities and essentially slammed nearly all of them as being subpar. While there certainly a good number of ineffective teacher prep programs, it would be hard to know which ones from the council’s ratings because of its flawed methodology, quickly exposed by many educators. They include teacher education expert Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University in this Answer Sheet post.  (You can read some others here, here and here.)

The council, which was founded in 2000 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and is funded by organizations that promote a corporate-influenced school reform agenda, quickly responded to the criticism. It sent an e-mail about Darling-Hammond’s piece with specific points of contention. In the following post, Darling-Hammond takes up each one and explains why she wrote what she wrote. After her post is the e-mail I got from the council. Why am I putting her response first? Because she cites their points and then addresses each one, so you can see their complaint as well as her response, and because I think her logic and evidence is overwhelming.

Darling-Hammond has conducted extensive research on teacher education programs, including “Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs” and the result of a National Academy of Education panel on teacher education, co-chaired and edited with John Bransford, “Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do.”

By Linda Darling-Hammond

In my blog about the recent NCTQ teacher preparation report, I identified errors in their program reviews — a few examples of the many dozens I have heard about. NCTQ has responded with their rationale for the ratings, claiming that, in “fact,” they got it right. Below are the real facts about these errors.

I want to preface this reply, however, with two points on which I agree with NCTQ: First, while I have seen many strong teacher education programs, there are many others that are very weak and need major improvements. Second, the areas that NCTQ rated — selection, content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and strong connections to clinical training — are important areas of focus. I am pleased that attention will be directed to these critical aspects of preparation.

Two things, however, are most unfortunate: The NCTQ indicators of these standards do not provide an accurate picture of the candidates actually prepared or the opportunities actually offered by these programs, and they provide no information about the outcomes of programs — what candidates actually learn and can do. In addition, based on the inaccuracies that are surfacing for most programs, the data collection was obviously conducted very poorly. It is truly unfortunate for the field of research and the field of teacher education that the development of the data collection were done with so little concern for accuracy. And it is a shame that NCTQ and U.S. News and World Report would publish ratings without even checking the data.

NCTQ did concede that they made an error in their ratings of the Stanford courses I mentioned and has noted that it invites programs to respond with corrections to their data. But there is no published plan to correct the ratings, and I fear that programs may have too little confidence in the NCTQ methods to take steps to engage with them further.

Fair warning: Reading the details below could tire some readers who are not deeply interested in teacher preparation. But to actually understand what has been rated and what the truth is requires a commitment to dive more deeply into program design than NCTQ apparently has been willing to do.

Columbia College’s Alleged Teacher Education Programs

The Claim as stated by NCTQ: “The Review is so badly done that NCTQ asserts that there is an undergraduate teacher preparation program at Columbia when there is none.”

NCTQ statement of “Fact”: Actually there is: the Urban Teaching Track Childhood Education program at Columbia College.

The Reality: There is indeed no such program at Columbia College. Originally NCTQ rated TWO programs at Columbia College — one in elementary education and one in secondary education — that do not exist. After I raised this point, the NCTQ website changed and listed the programs at Teachers College, the independent graduate school at Columbia University, instead. The president and provost at Teachers College were mystified about this attribution and went on a hunt for this program. They could not find one at Columbia College or at Teachers College. It turns out there is a program by this name at Barnard College, which students can take as an undergraduate minor. Barnard College – as its students will tell you – is not Columbia College, and it is not affiliated in any way with Teachers College. NCTQ appears not to know what institution it is even reviewing when it gives these ratings. (For some unknown reason, NCTQ did not rate the program content, only its “selectivity.”)

UC – Santa Barbara’s Alleged Failure to Offer Critical Teaching Courses

The Claim as stated by NCTQ: “We got U.C. Santa Barbara’s ratings wrong because we missed the elementary math courses, English Language Learners courses and a year-long student teaching program.” (In addition, I had noted that NCTQ entirely missed the UC-Santa Barbara secondary education program, which they do not address in their rebuttal. The truth is that they did entirely miss that program.)

NCTQ Statement of “Fact:” “We didn’t miss these courses or the student teaching program at all. We looked at each one and each one failed our standards. That explains their low scores, not sloppy errors on our part.”

The Reality: The evidence shows that NCTQ’s raters did in fact either miss the content of these courses or rate them erroneously. Their ratings are not plausible when the details of the program are known.

1) On English Learners, NCTQ review said: The program fails to meet the standard because there is no required course that delivers instructional strategies addressing the specific early reading needs of English language learners and requires candidates to practice such strategies. This is false. There are multiple courses (6 in all) that treat these strategies.

At UC-Santa Barbara, Candidates begin in August with a 2 unit course on “Foundations of Academic Language” that prepares them for the Reading/Language Arts (2 quarters) and English Language Development (ELD)/SDAIE (an approach to teaching English learners in content areas) course series (3 quarters). In addition, they have a course in “Culture and Language in Teaching and Learning” that also addresses teaching reading for ELs. All course assignments are linked to student teaching experiences, and require some form of assessment, teaching, or other activity with the candidates’ K-12 students. Candidates are only placed in partner schools that serve a diverse student body that includes children with linguistic diversity. The program requires that Candidates must have opportunities to teach English Learners, and this requirement is stated in the application that schools use to apply as a partner. Each reading/Language Arts assignment requires attention to learners in the classroom (which will include ELs) and the Literacy Assessment assignment requires a series of assessments with a student struggling with reading, generally an English Learner. Incorporation of Academic Language and ELD standards are a required component of the Lesson Design Template that all candidates in the program must use. All elementary reading/language arts lessons, and lesson plan assignments require consideration, assessment, and specific strategies for English Learners. The reading courses are integrated and articulated with the year-long three-course ELD/SDAIE series.

2) On Elementary Mathematics, NCTQ review said: The institution does not meet this standard because it requires that teacher candidates take little or no coursework designed to develop their conceptual understanding of elementary mathematics topics. It thus fails to ensure that all essential topics are adequately covered, regardless of the design of the instruction. This is false. There are 2 courses that do precisely this, plus another course in mathematics methods:

Two math courses are required of elementary candidates prior to taking their elementary mathematics methods course. The syllabi for these courses shows that they are focused on concept attainment both for candidates and for understanding how children think about these topics. The mathematics methods course builds on this conceptual understanding to enable candidates to learn to teach these concepts to children.

3) On Student Teaching, NCTQ review gave the program said: While the program provides student teachers with sufficient feedback it fails to meet this standard because it does not clearly communicate to school districts the desired characteristics of cooperating teachers, and fails to assert its critical role in the selection of cooperating teachers. This is false. The partnership agreement between the university and school districts outlines roles and responsibilities of university and school-site personnel and the characteristics of cooperating teachers.

The agreement makes it clear that UCSB-funded on-site coordinators and supervisors are involved in the selection of cooperating teachers and that such teachers must be able to model and develop the instructional strategies reflected in the California Teaching Performance Expectations, as well as planning with the teaching candidates weekly, sharing curriculum materials, and allowing candidates to explore approaches to teaching and learning found in the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. They must also teach diverse classrooms that include English learners.

4) On Struggling Readers, the NCTQ review said: The program fails to meet the standard because there is no required reading course that delivers instructional strategies necessary for teaching struggling readers and requires candidates to practice such strategies. This is false. There are two required courses in elementary reading/ language arts, both of which specifically treat the teaching of English learners, students with reading disabilities, and others who experience other difficulties in reading, and both of which are linked directly to clinical experiences that require candidates to practice these strategies.

The courses treat the Common Core State Standards in ELA, stages of reading development, and specific strategies to teach oral language development, word identification, phonological awareness, phonics, structural and contextual analysis of words, comprehension strategies, as well as strategies for reading different kinds of texts. Candidates study the California Content Standards for CAPA (California Alternate Performance Assessment) used with special education students and they design accommodations and modifications for students in their classes who have special needs. When they complete the Performance Assessment for California Teachers, candidates must also design and teach lessons suitable for students who are English learners as well as those with disabilities and be evaluated on their teaching.

Cal State – Chico’s alleged Failure to offer hands-on learning opportunities

The Claim as stated by NCTQ: “An implication is made that our rating of Cal State University at Chico is wrong because we missed their great ‘hands-on’ instruction at its learning lab.” (What I said was that: California State University at Chico was rated poorly for presumably lacking “hands-on” instruction, even though it is well-known in the state for its hands-on learning lab and requires more than 500 hours of clinical training during its full year of graduate level preparation.)

NCTQ Statement of “Fact:” While CSU-Chico’s learning lab may be fabulous, it is immaterial. All we know is that Chico does not give student teachers adequate feedback or require that student teachers are assigned to classroom teachers who are effective.

The Reality:

With respect to feedback for student teachers: In its extensive student teaching program, Chico links feedback to candidates to California’s thirteen Teacher Performance Expectations (TPEs). Formative assessments include formal classroom teaching observations over the course of both practicum experiences conducted by university supervisors. Feedback is guided by detailed rubrics. Instructors and university supervisors guide and coach candidates in the completion of formative assessments that prepare them for the teaching performance assessment and provide them with timely feedback. At the midpoint and end of each practicum semester, the candidate, the cooperating teacher and the supervisor engage in a three-way discussion to evaluate the candidate’s progress in addressing the TPEs. This discussion results in the completion of a Teaching Practicum Evaluation Form. Candidates also self-evaluate, and all three individuals participate in a final evaluation. In the event that a candidate is not successfully demonstrating competency on one or more TPE at any given point during the semester, an Improvement Plan is implemented. The Improvement Plan details specific areas of concern and recommends specific actions that need to be successfully completed. With support and guidance, the candidate is given additional opportunities to demonstrate success. At the end of the student teaching semester candidates, their cooperating teachers, and their university supervisor participate in an evaluation of the candidate’s strengths, growth needs, and growth goals. They use this information to develop an implementation plan that is then carried forward to their support provider in their induction program during their first two years of teaching.

With respect to selecting cooperating teachers: To qualify, a cooperating teacher must hold the appropriate credential (including authorization to teach English learners), have three or more years of experience teaching in California, teach in a diverse school, and be deemed capable of effectively guiding a beginning teacher by both university and site personnel. Experienced university supervisors provide input during the selection process, based on their own evaluation of teachers, along with site administrators who must recommend that a teacher is able to successfully guide the learning of a credential candidate. Both university supervisors and administrators make candid input about cooperating teachers in a data base that is maintained to guide placements. Cooperating teachers are removed from the data base when concerns are raised about their effectiveness.

Conclusion: NCTQ’s unorthodox methods may have been incapable of finding these readily available data, but that does not mean they do not exist. Even more important is evidence that candidates in fact are able to teach when they reach the classroom. We need more accurate and comprehensive methods for evaluating programs so that we can properly guide the improvements that are necessary. The National Research Council will soon issue a report on more productive methods for evaluating teacher education. I hope their findings will be the focus of as much attention by the media and the field as these.

———

Here is the e-mail I received on Wednesday from Laura Johnson, director of Communications at the National Council of Teacher Quality:

Today, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond posted a blog on Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet alleging that our teacher prep ratings are “nonsense.”

Many of the objections she raised are answered by our detailed methodology and scoring explanations. But her post makes a number of factual errors that we feel compelled to address:

Claim: The Review is so badly done that NCTQ asserts that there is an undergraduate teacher preparation program at Columbia when there is none.

Fact: Actually there is: the Urban Teaching Track Childhood Education program at Columbia College.

Claim: We got U.C. Santa Barbara’s ratings wrong because we “missed” a bunch of elementary math courses, English Language Learners courses and a year-long student teaching program.

Fact: We didn’t miss these courses or the student teaching program at all. We looked at each one and each one failed our standards. That explains their low scores, not sloppy errors on our part.

Claim: An implication is made that our rating of Cal State University at Chico is wrong because we missed their great “hands-on” instruction at its learning lab.

Fact: While CSU-Chico’s learning lab may be fabulous, it is immaterial. All we know is that Chico does not give student teachers adequate feedback or require that student teachers are assigned to classroom teachers who are effective.

There is one point that Dr. Darling-Hammond made which we have found to be correct. We did miss secondary math courses at Stanford University that should in fact be scored on our Secondary Methods Standard.

As we have said from the beginning, with 16,000 ratings decisions, it was inevitable that we would make some errors. That’s why we set up the Forum process, where we will publicly address all objections to our ratings and make corrections where necessary. Programs such as Stanford’s can send us their objections now and we will address them in July on our website.

We are pleased by the public discussion happening today about teacher preparation following the release of the Teacher Prep Review. This is how we are going to improve teacher preparation in America, by highlighting the best programs and helping mediocre ones improve so that every future teacher can be classroom ready, day one.

 

(Update: This version adds new information to Columbia College section)

 

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · June 19, 2013