Universities, colleges prepare teachers poorly, national report declares

Higher ed programs lacking, report says

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With about 16,000 of newly certified teachers in Pennsylvania a year, a good question is: How well do colleges and universities prepare them?

The National Council on Teacher Quality on Tuesday released a report saying that the picture is "dismal" in Pennsylvania and nationally.

"While we know a lot about how to train teachers, those practices are seldom evident in the vast majority of programs," said Kate Walsh, president of the NCTQ.

Of about 1,200 elementary and secondary programs rated, only four received all four possible stars, and 101 more received three or more stars.

The highest ratings in Pennsylvania were three stars to undergraduate secondary programs at two state universities, Bloomsburg and Mansfield. Both of their undergraduate elementary education programs received lower ratings.

Beth Mauch, dean of the College of Education at Bloomsburg, said, "We have been working for the last several years now to really improve our teacher preparation programs. This is just one more indicator we're doing a good job."

The report also produced a warning list for those earning less than one star, including four in Pennsylvania: the undergraduate elementary programs at California, Clarion and Holy Family universities and the graduate secondary education program at Marywood University.

The results are based on document reviews, including syllabi, admissions standards, observation forms used in student teaching placements and student teaching handbooks. NCTQ did not visit campuses nor interview superintendents or others on the performance of graduates.

Kevin Koury, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Cal U, said, "Cal U stands by the quality of its teacher preparation programs."

He said all of its education programs are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as well as approved by the state Department of Education. He noted these evaluations include campus visits and interviews, including talking with local school districts and consumers about the program.

"This provides a more extensive review and includes many data sources and professional reviews," he said.

Clarion spokesman David Love noted that his school also is accredited.

"We are very proud of our teachers. Our graduates are very well respected. They get jobs," he said.

Ms. Walsh said there was not a "workable strategy" to visit so many campuses.

"It's impossible to do what we're doing by visiting these campuses. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. That's what accreditation is for," she said.

Among the schools that did not participate was the University of Pittsburgh's main campus.

Pitt education dean Alan Lesgold said, "Basically, what NCTQ does is look at syllabi and degree requirements. If they see mention of everything they think is important, they give a high rating.

"We would probably come out OK because we require a lot of classroom teaching from our teaching candidates, but this kind of making inferences from documents that often are only promissory notes is not the way to evaluate."

He said Pitt is moving toward outside assessment of actual teaching of its students, which he considers "the strongest measure of how well we are doing."

Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, said the union was still reviewing the report.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the department will review the report and its recommendations but added "there are concerns about the limited data that was used to generalize results across all of Pennsylvania's educator preparation programs."

Based in Washington, D.C., the National Council on Teacher Quality was formed in 2000 as an "alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations and to build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession," according to its website.

The report called for improved preparation of elementary teachers to teach reading and math.

It said only about a quarter of the evaluated elementary programs in the state prepared future teachers in "effective, scientifically based reading instruction" and 9 percent provided "strong preparation to teach elementary mathematics, training that mirrors the practices of higher performing nations such as Singapore and South Korea."

That compares to national figures of 29 percent in reading and 19 percent in math.

The report gave the state as a whole high marks for selectivity in admissions, noting that 71 percent of elementary and secondary programs limit admissions to the top half of the college-going population. Nationwide, the figure is 28 percent.

While there was not enough data to give it an overall rating, Point Park University was one of 80 schools singled out for "strong design" for being both selective and diverse.

Other findings of the evaluated elementary and secondary education programs in the state include:

l 97 percent didn't ensure that student teachers were assigned "only to highly skilled teachers and receive frequent concrete feedback." Nationally, 71 percent also failed to meet this standard.

l 21 percent earned four stars for "providing feedback to teacher candidates on concrete classroom management strategies." The national figure is 23 percent.

l Zero elementary programs and 22 percent of secondary programs received three or four stars for adequate content preparation. The national figures are 11 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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