Guest opinion: Teacher study takes wrong tack
As the deans of two colleges of education, we find ourselves in the paradoxical position of agreeing with the fundamental essence of what the National Council on Teacher Quality espouses. At the same time, we shake our heads at the “research study” recently published with partner U.S. News & World Report, and NCTQ’s “findings.”
The NCTQ describes itself as an advocate for reforms in teacher policies to increase the number of effective teachers. Its mission is admirable: an excellent teacher in every classroom. We share that goal. Our graduates must have the knowledge and skills to become excellent teachers. We agree on the need to establish and maintain high standards for our programs, to prepare all teachers to implement rigorous common core state standards, to provide excellent classroom-based internships with mentors and to prepare teachers with classroom management skills and the ability to use student data in their teaching. If part of the motivation behind the NCTQ study is to ask all teacher preparation programs to reach higher standards, we also are in support of this purpose. Efforts like these can help to ensure that there are excellent teachers in every classroom.
Given that agreement, why would we take issue with the NCTQ report? Because the data used in the report of more than 1,000 teacher preparation programs across the country – including programs in this region – does not align with its stated conclusions. Solely by examining program handbooks and syllabi, for instance, the NCTQ claims to know which programs will prepare excellent teachers. From these documents alone, it has drawn conclusions about excellence. The council did not talk to principals who hire our graduates or examine the achievements of students taught by our graduates.
This study considered only inputs, not results. It settled with merely finding out what classes students take, whether topics in those syllabi aligned with its checklist of what should be included and what the declared processes and procedures for internships were. Any chef can tell you that wonderful baking ingredients still can result in a horrible cake. While it is indisputable that inputs influence outcomes, they do not guarantee them. Evidence of quality must include outcome data. The NCTQ study lacks this. People, particularly parents, wanting to know how well teacher preparation programs are doing will want to know more than just what is listed in a syllabus. They will want to know how graduates perform on national exit exams. They should know what evidence exists that a program’s graduates are having an effect on K-12 student learning. They should be informed about what those who hire our graduates have to say.
Those important pieces of information are not just missing from NCTQ’s findings – they were never addressed.
NCTQ claims that its study can identify programs “that are most likely to get the strongest outcomes for their students.” Ironically, it does not provide the actual, already measured data available on this topic. Data we already have show how our graduates perform in classroom settings, the skills they bring to increasing student learning and their abilities to plan and teach to rigorous standards.
NCTQ wants the public to believe that inputs can predict excellence. Sports fans know there is a difference between a team’s strength on paper and its performance. Why would we ignore performance in favor of guesses about potential? Successful principals may care where their teachers were trained and what was included in that training, but they know that what really counts is how their hires perform. They seek references from mentors and university supervisors. They watch videos of teaching and examine objective performance data that our graduates can provide. They know that a checklist of topics in syllabi and handbooks would not serve them as the guide to how a new teacher will fare.
We take studying the performance of our graduates seriously. NCTQ studied syllabi with the assumption that graduates’ performance can be predicted from that alone. We adamantly disagree that such a study can either predict graduates’ knowledge and skills or help teacher preparation programs in their continual quest to improve programs.
We welcome feedback. And maybe this latest report will help us see program flaws. However, we value far more the feedback we receive from mentor teachers, university supervisors and principals who hire our graduates. They know, based on performance, how well our programs prepared graduates to succeed. And they are not shy about telling us what they think. We encourage NCTQ and U.S. News & World Report to maintain a focus on teacher preparation. However, we urge them to examine the outcomes of our programs. Additional reports should include outcome data. We would be glad to partner in that effort. Our faculty members constantly seek improvements to their programs, and they are dedicated to addressing in practical, objective ways what matters most: what our graduates can actually do.
Cori Mantle-Bromley is the dean of the University of Idaho College of Education. Mike Trevisan is the dean of the Washington State University College of Education.