NCTQ misses the goal again

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Dean’s Blog


Originally I was going to title this post “NCTQ fumbles the ball again,” but since it is World Cup season I decided to go with something a little more timely.  No matter how you phrase it, however, the second iteration of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s attempt to evaluate teacher preparation program is even worse than the first go-around.

The 2014 “Teacher Prep Review,” as NCTQ calls it, suffers from many of the same flaws as the first review conducted last year, problems that I categorized in this post and in a column in Education Week.  But this year’s review compounds last year’s problems by adding new ones.  Here is a quick rundown on some of the key issues.

  1. The heart of NCTQ’s review process (I cannot call it a “methodology” because that would give the organization too much credit) remains the same as it was last year: a review of course syllabi and other publicly available documents to evaluate teacher preparation programs around the country. But as I and many other observers have pointed out, reviewing course syllabi and program websites alone is not a reliable method for determining the quality of a teacher preparation program.  As I said last year, doing this is like trying to judge a restaurant only by reading the menu, and without ever sampling the food.  The NCTQ review does not include visits to campuses, or interviews with program faculty or even teacher candidates themselves.
  2. Of the 1,127 institutions that NCTQ reviewed (some institutions had multiple programs reviewed), only 118 – or just over 10 percent – fully cooperated with NCTQ by providing the organization with all the information it requested.  Most institutions, like our college, refused to provide the information NCTQ requested because of serious reservations about its methodology, and because of the numerous errors the organization made in its first review (issues that I and my colleagues described in the Education Week piece I referenced earlier).  Thus, for almost 90 percent of the institutions it reviewed, NCTQ could use only information that it could collect from public sources.
  3. NCTQ this year switched from a ratings scheme, where programs were rated on a scale from zero to four stars, to a rankings scheme, where programs were ranked against one another from 1 to 394 (elementary education) and 1 to 406 (secondary programs).  Hundreds of other programs were not ranked at all, but simply lumped together as “unranked.”  There is nothing in the information provided by NCTQ that provides any basis to understand what the differences in these rankings mean, however.  For example, is the difference in quality between the 1st and 11th ranked programs the same as the 25th and 35th?  Is the ranking of the 8th best program significantly different from that of the 7th or 9th?  There is no way to determine this from the information that NCTQ provides.
  4. There is no explanation for which programs NCTQ chose to review, and which it didn’t, at each university.  For example, the two Michigan State programs included in the review are our elementary social studies program, and our secondary English education program, with a history minor.  We have no idea why these two of the many different programs we offer were included, and why the others were excluded.  The same is true of other universities.
  5. As with last year’s process, the NCTQ review is fraught with errors.  A quick look at NCTQ’s review of our two programs that were ranked turned up about ten factual errors the organization made.  The dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said that NCTQ rated a program at her institution that does not even exist.
  6. The inconsistencies in NCTQ’s review are at times stunning.  One of the areas on which our programs were rated low last year was training in classroom management techniques; last year’s review of our elementary education program gave us only two (out of four) stars for training in this area.  Last winter, following the publication of our op-ed column in Education Week, the president of NCTQ, Kate Walsh, attacked us on the Education Week website, singling out this area for criticism:

    For the purposes of this short letter, let me pose this simple question. Is the field prepared to ask public schools which courses matter more for the new teachers they may one day hire: Human Diversity, Power, and Opportunity in Social Institutions, an actual required course at Michigan State University (the letter-writers’ institution) for undergraduate teacher-candidates, or Research-Based Classroom Management Strategies 101, the sort of course NCTQ seeks?

    Yet this year, our elementary program was rated fully compliant in teaching classroom management techniques – even though we did not send any new information to NCTQ and our curriculum has not changed from last year to this!

There is little, if any, helpful information in this year’s NCTQ review.  One can only hope that all of the criticism will cause the organization to think twice before it continues the review in future years.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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