The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

Amid a national debate about tenure laws that can keep ineffective teachers in the classroom, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), an advocacy group, has turned the spotlight on teacher education programs and the results paint a grim picture.

The second edition of the “Teacher Prep Report,” released earlier this week, looked at nearly 2,500 teacher education programs at over 1,000 colleges and universities, up nearly 40 percent from the first report released last year. Schools were ranked by a series of standards, including admissions selectivity, classroom management instruction, and student teaching programs as measured by public documents such as class syllabi and required texts.

Of the 1,668 programs ranked by the group, only 26 elementary education programs and 81 secondary programs earned the designation “top ranked.” Nearly 70 of the highest ranked programs are at public universities, with Tennessee, Texas and Ohio home to the most. Seventeen states have no ranked programs based on the council’s ratings.

“Until we focus accountability efforts on meaningful outcomes, we are unlikely to move the needle very far.” – Timothy Knowles, Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago

The report blames lax admissions criteria and subpar student teaching programs for the low rankings. Three out of five programs admit students who fall academically in the bottom half of the college-going population. And just five percent (down from seven percent last year) of programs had components for a strong student teaching experience, the hallmark of traditional education programs.

New this year was the inclusion of “popular but poorly understood” alternative certification programs, including dozens of for-profit programs in Texas.

Council president Kate Walsh said the move to include alternative programs came after the first edition was widely criticized for ignoring them.

“This year we were able to do a pilot study of 85 programs adopting the same measures we use to look at traditional programs,” Walsh said. “We found that actually they perform worse than traditional programs on average.”

Walsh said alternative certification programs are not doing enough to make sure teachers know their subject matter, something that will only become more important as most states prepare to test the rigorous Common Core State Standards, which require broad content knowledge.

Nearly half of the 85 independent alternative programs evaluated are in Texas, the only state that allows for-profit companies to offer certification. “It gets down to the utter lack of (admissions) selectivity on their part, especially in Texas,” Walsh said. “Almost anybody can get into these programs.”

“There is no way that we are going to turn around the quality of teacher preparation and give teachers what they need and deserve without that kind of accountability.” – Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality president

The list also included state-run and Teach for America regional programs. Teach for America in Massachusetts was the only alternative certification program to receive high marks.

Walsh said that because her group was also perceived as overly aggressive in its search for data, the council had to hire lawyers in nine states to get institutions to provide access to public documents.

“We went about it in a way in retrospect that was not sufficiently sensitive to people’s dedication and commitment to doing the best job they could,” Walsh said. A lengthy list of “non-cooperating institutions” was published with the report.

Some educators claimed the 2013 report was biased because the council believed that teacher education was broken, a charge Walsh denies. She said the council’s only motivation was to improve the quality of teacher preparation so that all graduates are prepared for their first day in the classroom. “That’s not too much to ask,” Walsh said. “It’s certainly what we expect of other professions.”

The report’s methodology has also been challenged because it does not include campus visits or surveys of graduates. Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, said the absence of standards that measure how much students actually learn while in school or how long they stay in the profession makes the new ratings much less useful.

“Until we focus accountability efforts on meaningful outcomes, we are unlikely to move the needle very far,” he said.

Still, Walsh defends the value of the report. It was created in the image of Abraham Flexner’s influential Flexner Report, which gave low ratings to nearly all medical schools in North America in 1910 and sparked a wave of reform that fundamentally changed how doctors are educated.

“There is no way that we are going to turn around the quality of teacher preparation and give teachers what they need and deserve without that kind of accountability,” Walsh said.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Alexandria Neason is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has contributed to Chalkbeat New York, WAMU’s Metro Connection, National Public Radio’s Ombudsman...

Letters to the Editor

3 Letters

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

  1. I am a math teacher who work with recent graduates who want to be math teachers. My main concern have been the quality of the mathematics the bring to the profession. Some lack total understanding of basic mathematics concepts, unable to set up problems properly and explain concepts that make sense mathematically. One students told me they googled all of their theorems and important assignments. If we want to be serious with those who teach our kids, we must demand more from the universities to make sure those getting degrees know their stuff. Mathematics education is not leaving up to it goals. Emphasis has been on K-12, but it needs to include K-16.

  2. Has anyone at Hechinger bothered to examine who the NCTQ really is?

    Take a closer look at this seemingly “official” advocacy group and their underlying motives, before trumpeting their latest shocking findings…

  3. I been saying for a long time that the first step in educational reform is to look at teacher training programs. I made a career change to become a teacher. I have a master’s degree in my previous field. I went through a master’s level teacher school and I was appalled at the lack of rigor and the “do as I say not as I do” attitude. Although as K-12 teachers we are expected to make our lessons engaging, differentiate instruction and demonstrate the concepts we are teaching, I have to say I never once saw this in my classes. I graduated with a 4.0 but had to pretty much teach myself. The classes were lectures that often had nothing to do with the class; they were just stream of consciousness diatribes. Few of my instructors had set foot in a classroom in the past 20 years. I am now in a doctoral level teacher program and it is the same. Both universities are well respected for their teacher training programs. I honestly don’t see how unless their are programs that are much worse.

Submit a letter

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *