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Controversial Report Gives Low Marks For Teacher Preparation

Last week, President Obama announced a plan to develop ratings for teacher preparation programs. A report released last year gave Vermont a poor grade for its efforts to train teachers. And the focus from the White House has renewed controversy about ranking institutions where future teachers are educated.

The report came out last June by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  Another is due this June. In general, the NCTQ gives Vermont mediocre marks for preparing teachers. For example, it reports, “75 percent of the state’s elementary and secondary teaching programs fail to ensure a high quality student teaching experience", and “none of the elementary programs in Vermont are preparing teacher candidates in effective, scientifically based reading instruction.”

But Ellen Baker, who directs teacher education at the University of Vermont, says the report is flawed, because it is based only on course outlines and curricula submitted by the institutions, not on first-hand observation.

“And therefore it would be as if you were rating a restaurant based on their menu, never having been to the restaurant,” Baker said.

Baker says reports like this fail to capture a lot of good things that are happening in Vermont’s teacher education programs. While she admits some might be stronger than others, she would rather foster a spirit of collaboration, not cut-throat competition.   

Mary Beth McNulty agrees. She coordinates professional standards for Vermont’s Agency on Education.

“I think the NCTQ report is problematic,” McNulty said. “The days of naming and shaming schools and even now higher education, I hope, will shortly be behind us. It’s not that we are afraid of being held accountable but I think there are better metrics that we should be using and a better process for doing so.”

For example, McNulty says, the report says teacher ed departments in Vermont are not tracking the standardized tests scores of students who end up being taught by graduates of their programs.

That data is not an accurate measure of a teacher prep program, she says. And she notes that teachers are always improving, as they access professional development throughout their careers.

But the President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, Kate Walsh, says it’s a valuable resource  for consumers of higher education. For example, she says, the NCTQ shows that some teacher prep programs are much more selective than others, and that information can be useful for school administrators who hire new teachers.

“So we want to make sure consumers have access to better information and in turn we hope that those decisions they make will drive programs to do a better job,” Walsh said.

But education officials in Vermont say the NCTQ report, which is also linked to college rankings by US News and World Report, is unfair and misleading, and can deter families from sending students to programs that offer good training for tomorrow’s teachers.   

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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