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With America's teachers in the spotlight these days, so too are the programs that train teachers. Critics say they produce too many teachers who are poorly prepared for the challenges of a modern classroom. And the national organization wants to conduct a review of over 1,000 teacher programs to help aspiring teachers figure out which ones work best. That's controversial, as NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Every year about a quarter million teachers are hatched from hundreds of teacher training programs. Though they all have similar goals, they vary tremendously. Kate Walsh found that, for example, when she looked at requirements for middle school biology teachers.

Ms. KATE WALSH (National Council on Teacher Quality): In some places it means that teacher has to take nine biology courses, and in some places it means that teacher has to take one biology course.

ABRAMSON: So Walsh, who heads the National Council on Teacher Quality, decided to put together a consumer guide for prospective teachers. Walsh says her staff is combing through reading lists and entrance requirements or examining the rigor of in-classroom training.

Ms. WALSH: 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.

ABRAMSON: Then sometime next year the review will assign a letter grade to each program and U.S. News and World Report will publish the entire thing. Another rating system for higher ed. Sound pretty harmless, but in the world of education it can be hard - no, impossible - to get people to agree on standards. And that's what's happening here.

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

Dr. LYNNE WEISENBACH (Vice chancellor, University of Georgia): The professional standards commission has high standards and all of our institutions are accredited by the NCATE.

ABRAMSON: That's the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Weisenbach says the�U.S. News�survey relies too heavily on documents like curriculum content. She says some teachers use materials that may not show up in a syllabus. For that and other reasons, she thinks the plan will be misleading and a waste of time. So, the University of Georgia is refusing to participate in the�U.S. News�review of teacher training.

Dr. WEISENBACH: Given the time and resources we have, we really feel that we're putting them in the right place.

ABRAMSON: A number of other institutions have similar problems and may not help supply data. Kate Walsh of the National Center on Teacher Quality says this won't stop her. She will get the info through open records requests if she has to.

Ms. WALSH: These are publicly approved programs, preparing public school teachers. This is information the public has the right to know.

ABRAMSON: But Walsh admits open records requests will not let her peek inside preparation programs that are private. 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. Deborah Ball is dean of the education school at the University of Michigan.

Dr. DEBORAH BALL (University of Michigan): 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. 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.

ABRAMSON: Nevertheless, Ball says, the University of Michigan will produce the data that's been requested.

People behind the review project say they feel teaching programs are just reluctant to have outsiders looking in. But they say, a view from outside is just what's needed if teacher preparation is ever going to make the improvements that are needed.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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