WASHINGTON — The vast majority of the 1,430 education programs that prepare the nation’s K-12 teachers are mediocre, according to a first-ever ranking that has set off a firestorm.
Released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based advocacy group, the rankings are part of a $5 million project funded by major U.S. foundations. Education secretaries in 21 states have endorsed the report, but some universities and education experts assailed the review as incomplete and inaccurate.
Programs at Furman, Lipscomb, Ohio State, and Vanderbilt universities received the only “four-star” ratings, while some programs received no stars, eliciting a warning from the council for prospective students to avoid them.
The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University received relatively low marks in their undergraduate elementary programs, though they scored slightly above average in secondary programs.
Penny Poplin Gosetti, interim dean of UT’s Judith Herb College of Education, emphasized areas where the college performed well, such as in student outcomes.
“...While we don’t agree with every aspect of the research, it is certainly true that any discussion with the goal of finding ways to increase teacher preparedness is one we value and want to be actively involved in,” Ms. Gosetti said.
Bowling Green State University said in a statement that it “has a long and rich tradition of teacher preparation.”
The statement called the rankings “clearly incomplete and are not an accurate reflection of the quality of our programs.”
Despite the debate about the validity of the ratings of individual schools, educators and public officials — from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to governors to unions — agree that the country is failing to train adequately the 200,000 people who become teachers each year.
“We don’t know how to prepare teachers,” said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University and author of a scathing critique of teacher preparation. “We can’t decide whether it’s a craft or a profession. Do you need a lot of education as you would in a profession, or do you need a little bit and then learn on the job, like a craft? I don’t know of any other profession that’s so uncertain about how to educate their professionals.”
Many education schools suffer from the same maladies, Mr. Levine said. “Admission standards are low, no connection between clinical work and academic work, and some of the faculty haven’t been in a school for years,” he said.
New research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor inside a classroom that affects student learning. Increasingly, more classrooms have new teachers at the helm.
Amy Grelck, 26, thought she was ready to teach after graduating from the education program at Illinois Wesleyan University in 2009. Then she stepped into a fifth-grade classroom.
“I was in shock, really,” said Ms. Grelck, whose semester as a student teacher in an affluent school did not prepare her for her first job in a high-poverty classroom in Illinois. “I really loved the [university] program, while I was in it. But I really felt like I needed more of the realities of teaching. I had quite a bit of low-achieving, struggling students that I didn’t know what to do with.”
Teacher-preparation programs vary from school to school, and each state sets its own licensing requirements. Universities run most programs. Others are run by nonprofit groups or school districts. All have their own standards of admission and completion requirements.
A 2007 McKinsey study found that 23 percent of U.S. teachers graduated in the top third of their class; that figure was 100 percent in Singapore, Finland, and other places.
The American Federation of Teachers has proposed a rigorous exam for teachers, akin to the bar exam for lawyers, and wants universities to be more selective, requiring a minimum 3.0 grade-point average to enroll in teacher-preparation programs and to graduate. The effort has stalled because of a lack of funding, AFT president Randi Weingarten said.
About half the states have agreed to raising admission standards to education programs, but only a handful have acted.
The review was funded by 62 organizations, led by the Carnegie Corporation and the Broad Foundation. The National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed admissions standards and inspected syllabuses, textbooks, and course requirements, rating 1,430 programs. The group did not visit schools or interview students and faculty.