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U.S. News Getting It Wrong: Assess Teacher Programs Sensibly

There is great potential value in these new rankings, but not in their current format. I see a U.S. News methodology that is a certain recipe for failure.
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National rankings of colleges and universities are of great use to prospective students and parents, and to the institutions themselves. They can provide valid and impartial measures of the overall education experience schools have to offer, as well as the effectiveness of their programs and the achievements of their students and alumni. To be sure, such rankings -- especially when widely-publicized and distributed -- can also influence, for good or ill, student enrollment, funding, grant allocations and more.

That's exactly why rankings must be compiled, evaluated and presented in a fair, accurate and responsible manner.

Last month, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and U.S. News & World Report announced an ambitious undertaking: establishing a ranking of the nearly 1,400 teacher-preparation programs in place at colleges and universities across the country. I applaud their intentions to ensure that teachers and the programs we use to prepare them for the classroom are of the utmost quality. And I'm confident that SUNY campuses would fair very well in such a ranking if it were conducted sensibly.

However, the current methodology proposed by NCTQ and U.S. News & World Report will not get the job done. SUNY schools simply cannot participate in the survey until its flaws are rectified.

In a letter to U.S. News & World Report Editor Brian Kelly, I have, along with California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed and University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, advised that the 98 campuses we represent will delay their participation in the NCTQ/U.S. News survey until our concerns our adequately addressed.

And we aren't the only ones raising a red flag. This week, officials from Association of American Universities institutions, the president and provost of Teachers College of Columbia University and 35 deans from some of the top research universities in the country all voiced similar concerns.

An accurate and fair survey would take advantage of the best minds at colleges and universities with a history of successful teacher preparation to develop and review survey design, employ the types of rigorous assessment methods and standards that are already tried and true, and focus on the most critical factors that lead to success.

The current survey relies on input information -- such as course syllabi and textbooks -- instead of outcomes -- such as teacher performance, skill in promoting student learning and persistence in the profession.

While NCTQ has apparently agreed to give schools an "incomplete" score instead of punishing those that choose not to participate by giving them a failing grade, they must go further. NCTQ must allow for legitimate corrections to evaluations by campuses and agree to not rank institutions that choose to withdraw from the survey. Right now, NCTQ doesn't allow mistakes to be corrected and it takes information from sources of questionable reliability.

Teacher education is one of the critical issues of our time. A teacher and a teacher educator by training, I began my career in a one-room schoolhouse in the foothills of the Ozarks. As a higher education administrator, I've spent years advocating for reforms to teacher education. I'm also deeply engaged in a robust national conversation on teacher preparation and have been for more than three decades. Teaching is my passion and preparing teachers the right way has been my life's work.

So I see the value in what these rankings aim to address. However, I also see a U.S. News methodology that is a certain recipe for failure and one that will do more harm than good in moving our country toward improving the training we provide for our teachers.

A useful evaluation of teacher education in this country cannot be done halfway. For this survey to move forward as it is currently configured -- and without participation from three of the nation's largest systems of public higher education -- would be a disservice to the students, parents and campuses that the rankings are meant to benefit.

There is great potential value in these new rankings, but not in their current format. An inaccurate and unfair assessment of teacher preparation would ultimately hurt our ability to produce quality teachers. NCTQ and U.S. News & World Report have a responsibility to get this right and it's clear that they're headed down the wrong path.