By Karolyn Belcher
This post was originally published on the TNTP Blog.
On Tuesday, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its 2014 Teacher Prep Review. The report, like the inaugural edition last year, shines a harsh but important light on the state of teacher preparation programs nationwide. If last year is any indication, this will stir up a great deal of controversy among preparation programs and the policymakers who approve and regulate them—but it's the right conversation to have on a critical issue.
NCTQ expanded their report this year to assess hundreds of additional programs, including, for the first time, select alternative certification providers. That includes us; our DC Teaching Fellows and Baltimore City Teaching Residency programs were among those evaluated in the pilot. We're excited to see NCTQ begin to put alternative programs on equal footing with traditional programs, and welcome the outside scrutiny.
Both DCTF and BCTR received solid overall ‘B’ ratings, but with some areas where improvements were suggested. That didn’t surprise us; when reacting to last year's Teacher Prep Review, we acknowledged that we too struggled with some of the challenges that NCTQ highlighted as persistent throughout preparation programs. NCTQ said we need to do more to ensure that Fellows who go on to teach secondary science have mastered the content for all courses they may be called on to teach. Their concern is valid; the schools our Fellows serve are often understaffed, and a well-qualified candidate for teaching biology might be called on to teach physics as well. We’ll take their feedback into account as we look to improve our programs going forward.
That said, there are a few areas where we think the lens NCTQ used to evaluate programs could use some tweaking:
A more focused approach to evaluating teacher support. It's absolutely right to expect programs to support teacher candidates in the first stages of their careers. However, we think NCTQ is overly rigid in expecting programs to adopt a broad suite of supports without attention to which ones are supported by research. For example, NCTQ recommends that all alternative programs include a co-teaching period. That’s fine in principle, but there is little or no evidence connecting it to improved practice or student learning. Other approaches, such as focused coaching (even in virtual environments), have a broader research base. In future reviews, we hope NCTQ will focus its analysis of programs’ early career support for candidates to consider not the quantity of supports provided, but whether programs can demonstrate that their approaches have research backing them up and if they are being implemented well.
A more nuanced view of content preparation. We wholeheartedly agree that programs must ensure that candidates have the content knowledge necessary to be the experts their students need, and as stated above, we think we’ve got room to grow here. We also agree that current content area assessments used for licensure are far from perfect, even if research does show modest connections between these tests and student achievement. But NCTQ goes too far by recommending that programs independently require coursework and tests beyond state requirements without clear evidence justifying such additional investments. We think NCTQ should limit its content preparation expectations to what the research justifies.
A stronger push for evidence of effectiveness. We know that NCTQ shares our belief that the best measure of a program’s effectiveness isn’t what programs put into their candidates, but whether the teachers it prepares advance student learning. NCTQ rightfully incorporated value-added data in its assessments of programs where available. As states continue to implement more robust teacher evaluation systems, evidence of teacher effectiveness using multiple measures—classroom observations, principal ratings, student surveys, and others—will hopefully be more readily available. We encourage NCTQ to make every effort to access and put that data to use, as we believe a multiple measure approach offers a fuller picture of teacher performance and the relative quality of the preparation they received. We also encourage NCTQ to demand that alternative programs withhold certification from candidates who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness in the classroom—something TNTP Teaching Fellows programs and many highly regarded teacher residency programs already do.
We shared our feedback with NCTQ directly, and are more than happy to work with them as they expand their assessment of alternative certification programs in future years. We hope other programs will take this step as well if their concerns around the NCTQ methodology persist—clearly state your concerns, but also bring your evidence to the table for why NCTQ should reconsider.
We're grateful for the chance to work with NCTQ to ensure that future editions of the report are even better, no matter how our programs perform. Again, we welcome the scrutiny. NCTQ is putting themselves out on a limb by issuing a report with such strong language, and for that they should be applauded. And we stand by our top headline from last year—while the focus of the report is on individual institutions, the more important lessons lie in the broader trend: For teachers to enter the profession ready to lead their students to success, they need top-flight preparation—and for most, their programs are coming up short.
Karolyn Belcher is Executive Vice President, New Teacher Effectiveness.