NCTQ Student Teacher Study Raises Valid Questions for Colorado K-12 Education

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I have a great deal of respect for the work of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). As I pointed out a few months ago, NCTQ has been spearheading an important review of the university programs that prepare teachers for K-12 schools in the U.S.

Yesterday the organization released a report highlighting one phase of its research — namely, student teaching. Among the important standards examined were the amount of classroom time and commitment expected of student teachers, the role the program plays in matching students to cooperating teachers, as well as requirements that cooperating teachers have at least three years experience and a proven record of effectiveness at improving student learning.

NCTQ selected about 10 percent of the nation’s 1,400 teacher preparation programs to create a random sample across the USA. You may not be surprised to learn that the overall results are less than stellar. But as Education News Colorado’s Todd Engdahl reports, one of the three Colorado programs selected was one of only 10 nationwide to receive the highest mark from NCTQ: Colorado Christian University. The two other institutions from our state fared much worse:

The validity of the report was dismissed by Eugene Sheehan, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, the state’s largest teacher preparation program. “These studies aren’t real in-depth.”…

Nella Anderson, director of the teacher education program at Western, said in an email, “The study did not accurately evaluate our current program, even based on their own rating system.”

Sheehan offers a fuller critique on his blog. He may have a valid point — I don’t know (NCTQ collects more documentation than NCATE, but doesn’t make on-site visits as part of an ongoing accreditation process) — however, there is no denying that NCTQ used a pretty careful methodology to come up with their results.

Rather than fixing the blame on this program or that program, I believe the real value of NCTQ’s work is to shine the light on how little we know about, and therefore focus on, the bottom-line impact of teacher preparation programs on educator effectiveness and (ultimately) student learning. NCTQ makes a rather compelling case there. Does research of teacher prep programs study the impact on students in the classroom? Very little. And how much do the traditional accrediting agencies look at the bottom-line results? Not too much, I suspect.

In 2010 the Colorado General Assembly adopted Senate Bill 36, which charges the state’s department of education to “prepare a report on the effectiveness of educator preparation programs” using student growth data, by July 1, 2011, and available to the public within 30 days thereafter. Or about a week from now by my estimation. That should provide an interesting postscript, and hopefully move the ball forward to help raise the bar for effective instruction in Colorado.