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December 18, 2014

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Education:

Disputed report places ‘consumer alert’ on Nevada teacher training programs

National Council on Teacher Quality’s methodology comes under fire

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Sam Morris

Kris Carroll teaches Clark County School District teachers during the Visions Summer Institute Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at UNLV.

Seeing stars

Here 's how the National Council on Teacher Quality rated Southern Nevada schools on its 0- to 4-star scale:

NEVADA STATE COLLEGE:

• Undergraduate elementary education program: 0 stars

• Undergraduate secondary education program: 1 star

UNLV:

• Undergraduate elementary education program: 1 star

• Undergraduate secondary education program: 1.5 stars

• Graduate-level elementary education program: 1 star

• Graduate-level secondary education program: 0 stars

• Graduate-level special education program: 0 stars

Nevada's colleges of education are not designed to adequately prepare its graduates for the teaching profession, according to a long-awaited and controversial report released this week.

Since January 2011, the National Council on Teacher Quality has been working on a report card for teacher preparation programs across the country.

Looking primarily at course material from colleges and universities, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group graded programs from zero stars to four stars based on 16 factors, such as how well teachers-in-training are taught new Common Core curriculum standards, ways to help struggling readers and English-language learners, and skills such as classroom management and lesson planning.

In its inaugural "Teacher Prep Review," which was published in U.S. News and World Report, the council rated 1,130 teacher preparation programs, including those at four Nevada schools.

Great Basin College, Nevada State College, UNLV and UNR were all rated between zero and 1.5 stars.

Just a fifth of Nevada's colleges are teaching how educators should address the more rigorous Common Core standards in reading and math. Nevada's teacher training programs also are not selective enough and give little feedback to students, according to the review.

In fact, the Silver State's colleges of education were deemed so inferior that the council placed them in a "consumer alert" list to warn parents, prospective students and school districts. (The report mentions a caveat, however, that even low-ranked teacher preparation programs can produce graduates who end up being effective.)

Nevada's colleges weren't alone in their low ratings, however. The council's report was a scathing indictment of teacher preparation programs nationally, issuing two-star or lower grades to 78 percent of schools.

Just four universities — Furman, Lipscomb, Ohio State and Vanderbilt — received the maximum four stars. On the other hand, 163 programs — including programs at all four Nevada colleges and universities surveyed — earned less than one star.

"The Review finds (teacher preparation programs) have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity," the report states.

"This whole report just confirmed my worst fears," said former state superintendent Jim Guthrie, who worked with the council to develop the study. "It's another nail in the coffin for Nevada public education."

•••

Although some have applauded the report's findings, many colleges of education and teachers unions have criticized the council's efforts to rate teacher preparation programs.

Some public institutions have resisted participating in the study, arguing its methodology is unreliable and misleading.

Public colleges in Florida, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin have refused to cooperate with researchers, prompting the nonprofit group to file public records lawsuits and even enlist students to retrieve course documents.

"We were unable to apply all relevant standards to all programs, as we were derailed by widespread non-cooperation by institutions," the report states. "That is unfortunate for many reasons, but it should not make our findings any less meaningful or representative."

While Nevada colleges cooperated, they were quick to criticize the report.

"It contains a lot of flawed methodology," said Emily Lin, president of the Nevada Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "It doesn't accurately reflect the teacher preparation programs in Nevada and nationally. It has zero credibility."

Lin's chief issue with the report was with the use of "document review" — studying course syllabi and reading lists — to gain a sense of what was being taught in teacher preparation programs.

Lin, a UNLV associate professor of education, argued that just because a curriculum looks good on paper, it doesn't necessarily mean would-be teachers are absorbing it.

Furthermore, as education colleges adapt to changing reform efforts, such as the Common Core curriculum, syllabi can become quickly outdated — skewing the schools' ratings. The council collected syllabi over the course of several years.

Ultimately, looking solely at course documents is limiting because it doesn't include classroom observations, school district evaluations of graduates and student test scores from a graduate's classroom to give a fuller picture of the program's quality, Lin said.

"It's equivalent to looking at just the menu to rate a restaurant or looking at just the car manual to rate a car," Lin said. "You don't have anyone collecting data on how the food actually tastes or how the car actually drives."

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, agreed Tuesday that its inaugural "Teacher Prep Review" was "not a very deep look" into teacher training programs.

However, as the report states, the review was deep enough to "provide clear and convincing evidence, based on a four-star rating system, that a vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars."

Guthrie supported the council's use of document review to develop its rating system. The former state superintendent, along with former Clark County School Superintendent Dwight Jones, was listed as an endorser of the "Teacher Prep Review."

"These documents tell you what the institutions think is important," Guthrie said.

•••

Rorie Fitzpatrick, the interim Nevada superintendent, said there currently is not enough data to compare Nevada's college of education graduates to those from other states. That's why it's difficult to validate the council's report, she said.

The vast majority of teachers in Nevada were trained in other states. But some prominent school officials were educated in Nevada. Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, for example, earned a master’s degree in educational administration at UNLV.

Although there is little teacher data to confirm or deny the council's report, Southern Nevada colleges contend their programs produce quality teachers.

UNLV's College of Education has won several awards from national groups. Both UNLV and Nevada State College are nationally certified and base their instruction on national and international standards.

"Our graduates are doing remarkable work," said Nevada State College spokesman Spencer Stewart. "Are all of them doing great? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely."

Regardless of the report's low rankings, one factor is clear: Budget cuts have hurt teacher preparation programs.

Since the recession, UNLV's College of Education lost more than 60 percent of its funding. Its six departments were slashed to three. Its faculty, which once numbered 110 strong, was whittled to 80.

Nevada State College saw similar cuts to its teacher training programs. The college was forced to eliminate several academic programs, including its Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. The college has been forced to double its reliance on part-time faculty.

"In order to build up a quality (teacher preparation) program that produces graduates that make a difference in the classroom, it requires quality faculty," Stewart said. "It's difficult to run a program without having continuity of faculty."

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  1. It is, of course, predictable that Ms. Lin would criticize the study as it reflects poorly on her turf. A more thoughtful administrator/educator would consider that the same methodology which rated her charges poorly was used on every program reviewed and came to startlingly similar conclusions. My wife and I have taken teacher training courses at two universities, two on-line institutions and one school district, CCSD. The only one with substantive value was the Urban Teacher Leadership Program offered through CCSD. The on-line institutions were credit mills and the university programs were expensive credit mills. Unfortunately, teacher training programs are accurate reflections of the teaching profession. Teaching in the United States is the most mundane of the middle class professions, poorly respected and compensated in comparison to other professions, teaching draws upon the modestly educated and motivated. Expecting educational institutions to provide high-quality teacher training is akin to expecting McDonalds to serve gourmet meals.

  2. Excellent article and finally SOME coverage of another aspect. Just dumping money into K-12 and teachers does NOT help, it actually hurts. Teachers and administrators need to develop some introspection techniques. There are many excellent educators--but mostly not here. ANOTHER FACTOR is that if teachers were better prepared, preparation replacing time spent on the irrelevant, THE TEACHERS would be better rewarded for their efforts. By reward I'm referring to effectiveness and satisfaction with doing something relevant, something that attains RESULTS.

  3. Roslenda, do you work for NPRI? I ask because every single comment you make, usually totalling dozens a day, are NPRI's talking points. It's as if you're copy pasting them from a work memo. It doesn't matter that you have zero data to back it up. It doesn't matter that the data actually contradicts your opinion. You just keep spewing out NPRI talking points. Comments don't apply to the article? Slap NPRI talking points in anyways. Are you getting paid to post the same comments every single day?

  4. Sebring: I'm not, in any way, associated with NPRI. They probably read my posts and data mine the excellent logic.

  5. My sympathies to Mr. Takahashi--the militant teachers are intentionally ignoring this article because the headlines makes it clear that they do not want people to read it.