This week, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released ratings of over a thousand elementary and secondary teacher preparation programs using a four-star system, and found the vast majority of them to be lacking. As has already been pointed out by respected scholars of education, including Diane Ravitch (New York University), Michael Feuer (George Washington University), and Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University), as well by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the validity of these ratings is undermined by serious flaws in their methods and numerous errors within their report. In the case of the SMCM MAT program, our “lower-rated” areas are simply unfounded and inconsistent with the overwhelmingly positive evaluations we have received from professional accreditation institutions. Although we are wary of providing further publicity for this organization, we felt the need to point out the following about the NCTQ report:
1. The NCTQ is Not a Professional Association. Despite its formal name, the NCTQ is not a professional association. Scholars and the AACTE have addressed the political motivation behind the report, and NCTQ has made no attempt to hide their agenda, as reflected in their stated mission “to build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession.” The standards of NCTQ are incongruous with many of the standards outlined by the state of Maryland and other accrediting bodies of teacher education. Moreover, the seemingly objective scoring system they used conceals subjective judgments about what they believed was best for teacher education. For example, it is difficult to understand why works by renowned scholars and former elementary teachers Lisa Delpit (recipient of the American Education Research Association’s Cattell Award for Outstanding Career Achievement) and Richard Allington (named to the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame) were deemed “not relevant” for elementary reading courses.
2. Data Collection Primarily Consisted of Viewing Materials Available Online. Beyond the aforementioned problems with the scoring system, concerns about the methodology were expressed well before the report was even released. Many, including the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, wrote NCTQ and cited these concerns as reasons they were reluctant to participate in the study. Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, admitted that teacher education programs were “tremendously uncooperative.” Only about 10% of the programs listed in the report provided materials at NCTQ’s request, and none were visited by the organization. Many institutions were told that if they did not comply, results would be based on what NCTQ was able to find online and elsewhere. Thus, the ratings appear to be primarily based on what information was available on the internet. This is akin to a restaurant reviewer judging the merits of a restaurant by viewing its menu online. Even NCTQ’s own audit panel recognized it needed to improve the way in which it studied “how accurately reading syllabi reflect the actual content of classroom instruction.”
3. The Report Contains Serious Errors and Oversights. As Darling-Hammond noted, “the degree of inaccuracy in the data is shocking.” For example, St. Mary’s received no stars under the “English Language Learners” standard, because according to NCTQ, “there is no required course that delivers instructional strategies addressing the specific early reading needs of English language learners and requires candidates to practice such strategies.” However, as clearly stated in our program prerequisites, students must complete an entire course on working with English Language Learners prior to admission into the MAT. Also identified in the program prerequisites are specific GPA (2.75 cumulative/ 3.0 major/ 3.0 education courses) and test scores requirements. NCTQ overlooked these as well, awarding the program no stars under the “selection criteria” standard and commenting that, “The program fails to meet the standard because it does not exploit the potential for admission requirements (grade point averages, standardized tests commonly used for graduate admission and/or auditions).” As a comparison, Teachers’ College at Columbia University received four stars for “selection criteria” because candidates “must have obtained a GPA of 3.0 or higher.” St. Mary’s is not alone; several colleges have reported similar errors in the report. When Darling-Hammond noted that Stanford University was penalized for the absence of secondary mathematics courses, when in fact three such courses existed, NCTQ could only reply, “with 16,000 ratings decisions, it was inevitable that we would make some errors.”
We understand and agree with the need to ensure that all teacher education programs are preparing the next generation of teachers to make a positive impact on the learning experiences of their students. We genuinely welcome thoughtful assessments and evaluations of our program that promote meaningful discussions about the current state of teacher education, but we strongly believe that the NCTQ review is not a mechanism for such dialogues. We invite you to learn more about our program on our website, through our Alumni Facebook page, or by contacting one of our faculty members directly.