‘Bogus’ teacher prep ratings and Zagats

Free tip for Zagat’s restaurant rating service from the National Council on Teacher Quality: You don’t need to actually eat at a restaurant to rate it. Just read the menu. If the menu is unavailable, just rate it anyway. As illogical as this might sound, this is exactly what NCTQ is doing with its release of ratings of teacher preparation programs.

In partnership with U.S. News & World Report, NCTQ released ratings on teacher preparation programs from across the U.S. Claiming to be the education version of Abraham Flexnor, who in 1910 visited, studied, and reported on each U.S. medical school in an attempt to improve them, NCTQ seems to be missing the point about visiting and studying. However, according to the “NCTQ as Abraham Flexnor” promotional video, U.S. teachers “should be the best trained teachers in the world.” This from the group who spawned the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, an alternative route into teaching that touts on its web site that someone can become a teacher for $1995 with infomercial flair. For more on the beginnings of NCTQ, see Diane Ravitch’s illuminating piece.

Just as we don’t judge a restaurant’s quality by its menu, let’s not judge the quality of a teacher education program by its syllabi. Evaluate the work that its graduates do with students in their classrooms.

Instead of actually visiting or studying programs, NCTQ attempted to collect syllabi from teacher preparation programs. Given NCTQ’s  track record and stated mission, a dispassionate review of traditional teacher preparation programs wasn’t likely to follow. When colleges and universities chose not to participate in the syllabi gathering, NCTQ offered students $25 to $200 to provide syllabi. I, along with other colleagues, received emails from individuals claiming to be students at our institution, inquiring about syllabi to allegedly help inform their decision to take a class. On further inspection, these students were not enrolled at the college. Legitimate research is not conducted this way.

Yesterday, my college, Wheaton College, a private, selective liberal arts college that has been preparing teachers for over 150 years with some of the highest pass rates on certification exams in Illinois, got its “rating.” At the top, the report stated that Wheaton’s  program “does not share data” and then proceeds to deliver a rating on that unshared data with less than half of the criteria they deem to vital to teacher preparation success evaluated. Overall, Wheaton received one of four possible stars based on the less-than-transparent review of documents and syllabi that we did not share — interesting. We did have the privilege of being rated by NCTQ several years ago in its 2010 review of 111 Illinois teacher preparation programs on such technically sound criteria description as, “Teachers need to learn about real and useful cognitive science, not bogus cognitive science such as ‘learning styles’ ” (p. 4 of the Illinois review). Yes, NCTQ used the term the highly scientific term, “bogus” in its evaluation. Fitting, isn’t it?

For information on what high-quality teacher candidates from our program have developed as part of Wheaton College’s mentoring initiative, go to our team’s student-run site. Just as we don’t determine a restaurant’s quality based on a menu, let’s not determine a program’s quality on syllabi, ethically or unethically obtained. Evaluate the work that graduates do with students in their classrooms all around the world. Then we can have a real discussion about teacher preparation.

JONATHAN ECKERT (jon.eckert@wheaton.edu) is an associate professor of education at Wheaton College, Wheaton, III. He is author of The Novice Advantage (Corwin Press, 2016) and maintains a web site at www.jonathanmeckert.com.

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