Education Programs Assail 'U.S. News' Survey

Amid criticism from education reform advocates who say many teacher preparation programs provide poor training, a national organization is conducting a review of more than 1,000 programs to help aspiring teachers choose from the best. This consumer guide for prospective teachers — conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality — will be published in U.S. News and World Report next year.

But many schools of education say the effort is misguided, and they are threatening to scuttle the project.

Compiling The Stats

Teacher training programs have similar goals, but they vary tremendously. Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who is spearheading the effort, points to requirements for middle school biology teachers.

"In some places it means that teacher has to take nine biology courses, and some places it means that teacher has to take one biology course," Walsh says. She says her staff is combing through course syllabuses and entrance requirements and examining the rigor of in-classroom training.

"We want to know how prepared they are to teach reading, the mathematics preparation of elementary teachers. We're looking at whether they're at all selective," Walsh says.

It may sound like another harmless rating system for higher ed, but in the world of education, it can be impossible to get people to agree on standards. And that's exactly what's happening here.

Lynne Weisenbach, vice chancellor of the University of Georgia, says her state's institutions are doing fine. They have already been vetted by a state review board.

"The professional standards commission has high standards, and all of our institutions are accredited" by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Weisenbach says.

She says the U.S. News survey relies too heavily on documents like curriculum contents. Some teachers use materials that may not show up in a syllabus, she says. For that and other reasons, she thinks the survey will be misleading and a waste of time. So the University of Georgia has refused to participate in the U.S. News review of teacher training.

"Given the time and resources we have, we really feel that we're putting them in the right place," she says.

'A Very Strange Metric'

A number of other institutions have similar problems and may not help supply data.

Walsh says this won't stop her. She will get the information through open records requests if she has to. "These are publicly approved programs preparing public school teachers. This is information the public has a right to know," she says.

But Walsh admits that open records requests will not let her peek inside private preparation programs. And even with public programs, filing all those requests will be expensive and will make it tougher to get a complete picture.

Many schools say they feel the U.S. News ratings are just looking at the wrong indicators.

"For example, most of the indicators people are discussing have to do with inputs like the quality of the entrance requirements. That's a very strange metric," says Deborah Ball, the dean of the education school at the University of Michigan. "If I was a person looking for a program, I'd want to know what I'm going to learn while I'm there, not how selective the program is."

Nevertheless, Ball says the University of Michigan will produce the requested data.

People behind the review project say they feel as though teaching programs are reluctant to have outsiders looking in. But they say a view from the outside is just what is needed if teacher prep is ever going to undergo the changes they say are needed.

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