Who doubted that a new report (PDF) from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) on Colorado’s elementary teacher preparation would unleash a small firestorm? For those who did doubt, yesterday’s Ed News story helped to set them straight:
In a letter to the Denver Area Superintendents’ Council dated Dec. 7, two University of Colorado education school deans echoed Sheehan’s criticisms of the study, and suggested that NCTQ may have an axe to grind. According to Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Lynn Rhodes, dean of the CU-Denver School of Education and Human Development,
“NCTQ is a self-appointed teacher-quality advocacy group. Its founder, Kate Walsh, is an avowed critic of college- and university-based teacher preparation programs. NCTQ has not been approved as an accrediting body by either the federal government or professional associations.
NCTQ has already issued reports on teacher preparation in several other states, including Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, using a predictable template. Although NCTQ claims to provide “comprehensive research,” their research methods and criteria are quite limited. Rather than focusing on teacher candidate performance outcomes as is expected in most present-day accountability and accreditation models, NCTQ bases its critiques on three narrow aspects of program inputs and standardized tests as outcomes.”
Part of the problem here is the heart of the debate lies deeper, over the value of the existing accreditation models. Why else go after NCTQ for not being something they never purport to be — namely, an “accrediting body [approved] by either the federal government or professional associations.” Such appeals to authority have limited value.
However, I agree it would be better to look at what practicing teachers already know. Three years ago the Independence Institute hosted an event titled “The Reading Crisis.” (For those with time on your hands, you can listen to the archived event audio online.) At that event, Dr. Jeannette Cornier presented the findings of her research on Colorado elementary teachers’ basic grasp of phonemic awareness and other key elements of Scientific Based Reading Research.
The results were deplorable. Large percentages of the 183 teachers sampled answered basic questions incorrectly. Isn’t there good reason to believe this problem contributes to the fact that one-third of Colorado public school students are not proficient readers? What’s the possibility that consistently better pre-service instructional training would obviate the need for some of the costly professional development that taxpayers fund through the K-12 system? Where is the incentive to change this vicious trend?
I would love to see a follow-up to Dr. Cornier’s study that covers Colorado elementary teachers’ understanding of basic reading AND math elements, and breaks down the results by their teacher training program. Maybe such a study already exists, but in any case it would be instructive to see how the results line up with NCTQ’s analysis of course syllabi. Because I think an excellent point is made:
Julie Greenberg, senior policy director for the NCTQ and co-author of the report, insists that the methods used are appropriate. “Our feeling is that we’re looking at the necessary conditions for teaching materials that teachers need to know,” she said. “If those building blocks aren’t in place, seeing what actually happens in a classroom won’t change the fact that they’re absent. The lack of these things can’t be compensated for.” [emphasis added]
And I’ve only touched on one major piece of the NCTQ study. In any case, the last thing we should do is let criticism of the study deter policy makers from scrutinizing how we prepare teachers to instruct students in the basics.
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