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Training of Teachers Is Flawed, Study Says

Teacher education and training

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group, is to issue a study on Thursday reporting that most student-teaching programs are seriously flawed. The group has already angered the nation’s schools for teachers with its plans to give them letter grades that would appear in U.S. News and World Report.

The council’s report, “Student Teaching in the United States,” rated 134 student-teaching programs nationwide — about 10 percent of those preparing elementary school teachers — and found that three-quarters of them did not meet five basic standards for a high-quality student-teaching program.

When the U.S. News rankings are published, the student-teaching programs will count for one-fifth to one-third of an education school’s grade, according to Kate Walsh, president of the council.

“Many people would say student teaching is the most important piece of teacher preparation,” Ms. Walsh said. “But the field is really barren in the area of standards. The basic accrediting body doesn’t even have a standard for how long a student teacher needs to be in the classroom. And most of the institutions we reviewed do not do enough to screen the quality of the cooperating teacher the student will work with.”

Many of the nation’s 1,400 education schools have taken issue with the council’s ranking project.

“This report will generate some attention and discussion, but we don’t know how valid the analysis is,” said Sharon P. Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “They ask for a lot of documents, reviewed by people we do not know, against rubrics we are not privileged to see.”

In some areas, like the length of student-teaching placement, Dr. Robinson said, the council’s standards are less rigorous than what many education schools require. In others, she said, the standards actually go against the current direction of education overhaul.

“A school can lose points for not having absolute control over the selection of the cooperation teacher,” she said. “But we think these clinical experiences should be crafted in partnership with the schools, not dictated by either the principal or the education school.”

This year, officials from 35 leading education colleges and graduate schools wrote to the editor of U.S. News, criticizing the council’s methodology, and complaining about the “implied coercion” in the initial plan to use open-records laws to get information the schools would not supply voluntarily — or, if the information was unavailable, give the schools an F.

Among the 134 schools in the report, 12 asked not to be included; the council included them anyway, using public records requests to get information about the public institutions, and indicating with an asterisk institutions for which some information was unavailable.

The ranking plan is more popular among state education officials. In 10 states, the chief education officer has specifically endorsed the council’s project.

“This is shaping up to be quite a battle royale, not just between the education schools and us, but between K-12 education and higher ed, since state school officers want this information, but education schools are fighting it,” Ms. Walsh said.

The pushback might delay the rankings, which were to be published late next year, she said.

“Our schedule was predicated on schools voluntarily complying, as they do with all other U.S. News and World projects,” Ms. Walsh said.

Because some of the standards on which the education schools were ranked are subjective, some institutions ranked “poor” said they disagreed with that rating. Ten programs, or 7 percent, were rated as having “model” design; 17 percent had “good” design, and the rest were rated “weak” or “poor.”

Fayneese Miller, dean of the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont, the largest teacher-training school in the state, said she could not understand why her school got a “poor” — worse than the other two Vermont schools ranked — when hers is the only education school in the state that exceeds all state standards, the only one with national accreditation and the one with the longest student-teaching placements.

“We have no problem about being evaluated, but as you can imagine, I am not at all pleased about the way they conducted the study,” Dr. Miller said. “This has major implications for us in terms of our ability to attract and place our students.”

The council, however, said that, like many education schools, the University of Vermont’s did not meet its standards because it left principals too big a role in choosing cooperating teachers, and did not do enough to ensure that they are effective teachers who will be good mentors.

At New York University, rated “weak” — along with CUNY Lehman and SUNY Cortland, the other two New York institutions included in the report — Mary M. Brabeck, dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, also took issue with council’s methodology, saying that she would grade the report “poor.”

“It relies on standards that appear arbitrary and unsupported by research, and it uses them to draw incorrect conclusions,” Dr. Brabeck said in an e-mail.

For example, she said, N.Y.U.’s elementary education students must have four different placements, and 15 weeks of student teaching, more than required to meet the council’s standards. But because of the way the placements are structured, they are counted as not meeting the standards.

The New York Times, July 21, 2011

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