Teacher education has become the object of criticism from several sectors. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (2009), has made public statements on what he says is the mediocrity of teacher education. Like many of the attacks on education in general, these criticisms seem ill informed and even disingenuous. They are also subjective and, I believe, ideologically driven. They are given as statements of fact, but are not supported by reliable or valid evidence. Those who disagree with them are accused of bias, self-interest or are discredited.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), cited above for misusing DOE funds to promote programs, has captured the media’s attention with its ideologically driven “studies” to show the deficiencies of teacher education (AACTE, 2011). A recent example is its “study” of teacher education in Illinois, which it has now expanded to all of the teacher education programs in the United States. This “study” is being conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality and the US News and World Report to rank teacher education programs in the United States. It is very long on biased surveying and very short on scientific methodology and validity, resulting in programs that conform to NCTQ’s ideological formulas being rated well and those that do not being considered as weak or failing.
Eduventures, a research and consulting agency, found “The majority of NCTQ’s standards are not evidence-based, and appear to reflect the specific viewpoint of NCTQ” (2010, p. 3). Its report concludes:
While it is important that SOEs [Schools of Education] be held accountable for preparing high quality teachers, the study that NCTQ has conducted in Illinois of teacher preparation programs is significantly flawed. The quality of outputs and employer ratings are not taken into consideration—an integral piece to consider when judging the quality of preparation program. The federal government and state and local policymakers increasingly emphasize outcomes and results in producing highly effective teachers that increase student achievement, turning away from inputs alone as indicators of teacher quality. The lack of clarity and transparency with regards to the common standards that NCTQ is using and the processes and procedures used to analyze the collected data make the methodology of the NCTQ study in Illinois problematic. While the study provides a high-level look across teacher education program models, its methodology flaws ultimately limit the validity of the study’s conclusions and make the findings somewhat unreliable. Eduventures analysts recommend that policymakers, the public, and the press should keep these limitations in mind when reviewing the results of the NCTQ study. (p. 4)
Further, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) finds NCTQ’s efforts and methodologies do not meet scientific evidence or research-based standards (2011). Unfortunately, these NCTQ results are presented as valid and convincing evidence of the problems with teacher education.
Popular programs with policy makers are alternative routes to teaching that require very limited education coursework or clinical experience in education programs. They put their teacher candidates with only subject content knowledge in classrooms after intensive two to six week orientations. The trend is to allow any alternative path to teacher certification that claims to be better or cheaper. Teach For America (TFA) is the most well known, prestigious and popular of these programs.
On the other hand, increased clinical experiences in teacher education programs are being called for in reform proposals. Like any profession, whether medicine, law or some other trade, teachers may not feel truly prepared for the first year on-the- job, but they have been given enough experience and a foundation upon which to build. Paradoxically, traditionally prepared students generally have extensive field experiences, whereas the alternative program those policy makers are promoting have minimal or none. Teacher candidates need practical experience based on sound knowledge and meaningful feedback. What are these reformers basing their contrary recommendations on? What are their motives? The rhetoric behind these proposals seems to be aimed at criticizing teacher education as irrelevant or unnecessary.
Though teacher education is being attacked, surveys consistently show that the large majority of teachers feel the teacher education program they graduated from did a good to excellent job preparing them to be a teacher. The general public believes from their personal experience that their educational institutions and teachers, elementary, secondary and post-secondary, are doing and have done a good job.
Though most teacher education programs are pursuing their missions with integrity and providing their teacher candidates with needed skills and in-classroom experience to be successful, those that are not should be put on notice and finally closed if they do not meet the vital and challenging standards of the profession. Teacher education programs need to raise professional standards continually so that excellent teachers are available, even though the policies being advocated by government are discouraging the best and brightest from becoming educators, and the position, livelihood and calling of teaching are being diminished.