Yes, Colorado Has Lots of Room to Improve How We Prepare Teachers for Job

It sure seems like Colorado education policies are getting graded quite a bit these days. Last week we earned a B from the Center for Education Reform for the quality of our charter school law, which placed us in the top 10 among states. Two weeks ago Students First looked at a whole range of policies to rank us 9th nationally but give us only a C.

Another group not grading on the curve is the National Council on Teacher Quality — better known as NCTQ. The picture isn’t pretty at all. The release of the 2012 edition of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook focused in on a weak area for Colorado: teacher preparation.

Last year, rating states on a whole gamut of instructional policies — including the identification and retention of effective teachers — Colorado pulled down a modest C. Our state’s worst of the five areas was in how well we provide for preparing teachers to do the job: D-minus.

So I guess we should be mildly upbeat that a year later Colorado now has a D in teacher preparation policies? Not exactly. Some just seem to blame the group giving out the grades:

And critics of reports issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality and the data their researchers use are not hard to find. University of Northern Colorado Dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences Eugene Sheehan said the NCTQ has built up a reputation for itself not unlike the Kardashians or disgraced bicyclist Lance Armstrong.

“Yes we do pay attention (to the rankings) because other people read them,” Sheehan said late Wednesday. “Most states over the years never get higher ratings on the criteria NCTQ develops. I literally mean never.”

Yet overall, Colorado and 13 other states improved our letter grade performance from the 2011 Yearbook. Alabama, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire made significant improvement, though even the highest-rated state can’t budge past a B-minus. According to NCTQ, Colorado’s slight step upward is entirely because of an improved focus on making sure middle school teachers have some appropriate content expertise to get a license.

Still, I’m not jumping up and down for joy. Not because Colorado is ahead of 17 states in teacher preparation, and a majority of states get a D-plus or lower. Nor should we be cheered knowing that Colorado is one of 49 states that “does not ensure that teacher preparation programs admit candidates with strong academic records.”

Forget the comparison to obnoxiously wealthy reality show families and dope scandal-ridden cyclists. Though they don’t offer an all-encompassing answer, NCTQ’s ratings give a pretty thorough look at some real policies that can have a significant impact on what students learn in the classroom.