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Report praises one program, dings two

A new report on student teaching programs rates one Colorado education school highly but gives low marks to two others, evaluations those schools don’t agree with.

The report, “Student Teaching in the United States,” was released today by the New York-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

It rates student teaching system of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood as “model” but those of the University of Northern Colorado and Western State College as “poor.”

Those were the only Colorado programs reviewed, and the full study examined only 134 teacher preparation programs out of about 1,400 nationwide. Of the 134, 7 percent were rated as model, 17 percent as good, 50 percent as weak and 25 percent as poor. Colorado 19 higher education institutions have state-approved teacher prep programs.

The validity of the report was dismissed by Eugene Sheehan, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, the state’s largest teacher preparation program. “These studies aren’t real in-depth.” (Read Sheehan’s blog post on the report.)

The NCTQ doesn’t release detailed information on individual programs, so it’s not possible to examine all the factors leading to its ratings of UNC, Colorado Christian and Western. Julie Greenberg, senior policy analyst, said the council feels the report’s conclusions “are best conveyed in the aggregate” and that “we didn’t want them [institutions] to be considered in isolation.”

Nella Anderson, director of the teacher education program at Western, said in an email, “The study did not accurately evaluate our current program, even based on their own rating system.” Sara Dallman, dean of the education program at Colorado Christian, replied to a request for comment by saying she was out of the office until Aug. 2.

Findings and recommendations

The main findings of the report are:

  • There aren’t enough qualified “cooperating teachers” (those who supervise student teachers) nor enough demand for new elementary teachers nationwide to justify the number of student teachers placed in schools every year.
  • Three quarters of institutions don’t determine if cooperating teachers are effective and two thirds don’t assess the mentoring abilities of teachers who work with students.
  • Preparation programs have little power to set student teaching requirements with districts.
  • Student teachers don’t get enough feedback from districts or their training programs.

The report recommends:

  • Reducing the number of students who are trained for elementary teaching.
  • A focus of finding and using “exemplary” cooperating teachers.
  • Districts take fewer student teachers so that they can be paired only with effective cooperating teachers who have strong mentoring skills.

The report estimates that only one in 25 teachers nationwide is qualified and willing to supervise a student teacher.

How the report was done

The report measured programs against several standards chosen by NCTQ, the five most important of which involved the length of student teaching programs, selection of cooperating teachers by the teacher preparation program and the qualifications of cooperating teachers.

All 134 programs were reviewed against the five standards, and then 32 programs were reviewed on 14 additional standards. Colorado Christian was evaluated against all the council’s standards, but not UNC or Western.

According to the report, researchers examined student teaching program documents and surveyed program administrators and school principals about student teaching in the 2008-09 school year. Five case studies were based on campus visits, none of them in Colorado.

The report concluded that while the research focused on undergraduates who plan to teach in elementary school, “We can identify no reason why our findings and recommendations would not generally extend to both undergraduate and graduate preparation of all classroom teachers.”

Researchers randomly chose one private institution in each state and two public programs, one relatively large and one relatively small.

Sheehan was critical of the report’s methods, saying, “They come up with their own criteria that are not research based.” He also said he feels NCTQ studies are too “input based,” focusing heavily on course syllabi and program handbooks and not enough on outputs – actual program performance. He compared the approach to rating cars from blueprints rather than actually driving them.

He noted that the UNC education program was recently reaccredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a lengthy process that includes site visits by evaluators.

Greenberg of NCTQ defended the report’s methods, saying, “This is one area where it seemed to us an unassailable presumption that establishing the right policies [and] procedures … can hardly be immaterial.” She added, “They’ll not a guarantee, but we have to believe that they they’ve got to be part of the equation.”

(Read more about the debate over NCTQ’s methodology in this article on Inside Higher Education.)

About NCTQ

The NCTQ is a reform-oriented group that issues reports and advocates on teacher quality issues, especially preparation. Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien chairs its board of directors, and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, sits on the NCTQ advisory board.

A 2009 report by the council rated Colorado teacher preparation programs low in training students in how to teach reading and math. Education school deans also questioned the methodology of that report. (Read story.)

The council is funded by such foundations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Broad Foundation and the Denver-based Daniels Fund. (Disclosure: The Daniels Fund also supports Education News Colorado.)

The council is working with U.S. News & World Report on a national review and rating of teacher preparation programs.

Colorado teacher prep at a glance

Programs

Teacher preparation programs at 19 institutions are approved by the departments of education and higher education.

Those include Adams State, Colorado Christian, Colorado College, CSU, Colorado Mesa, CSU-Pueblo, Fort Lewis, Jones International University, Metro State, Regis, CU-Boulder, CU-Colorado Springs, CU-Denver, the University of Denver, UNC, the University of Phoenix and Western State.

All but CSU and Jones International offer undergraduate training in elementary education, the focus of the NCTQ report. (Denver Seminary and Rocky Mountain College of Art offer limited specialized teacher training.)

There’s also a statewide transfer agreement that allows community college students to transfer early childhood and elementary education credits to state four-year programs.

Enrollment

According to a January 2011 Department of Higher Education report on teacher preparation, 12,970 students were enrolled in preparation programs in 2010, up 19 percent from 2005.

Statistics for the three programs reviewed by NCTQ:

  • UNC – 3,770 total, 2,810 undergraduate, 1,345 undergrads in elementary education
  • Colorado Christian – 227 total, 195 undergrad, 168 elementary education
  • Western – 140 total, 40 undergrad, 31 elementary education

Statewide, the number of elementary education graduates increased 15 percent from 2005 to 2010 while elementary enrollment increased 11.7 percent.

Other facts of note

Colorado law requires at least 800 hours of field experience for education students.

The state also has three-dozen alternative licensing programs, which are regulated by the Department of Education.

According to CDE, about 13,000 applications a year are for initial licenses, half from applicants trained in Colorado and half from out of state. About 800 teachers a year are trained by alternative programs.

Coming changes

Two recent state laws will affect teacher preparation in the future. Senate Bill 10-036 requires CDE, starting this year, to prepare an annual report on educator preparation program effectiveness using data collected through the educator identifier system on teachers in their first three years of work.

Senate Bill 11- 245 updates the regulation of teacher prep programs to conform with recent changes in education law and requires the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to review the current system of regulating programs and make recommendations for a new system by the end of 2013.

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