A study released Tuesday shows that preparation for teaching jobs is lacking across the country, including in Georgia.
But the results are not without some controversy and disagreements, as representatives from the University of North Georgia and Brenau University illustrate.
“I kind of wonder, if this were done in another profession ... would it be OK for doctors to be evaluated by someone that isn’t their professional evaluation group?” asked Toni Bellon, UNG assistant dean of the graduate education program.
The data were collected and reported by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy group committed to restructuring the teaching profession,” according to its website, nctq.org.
The results were published online through U.S. News & World Report, which also produces annual rankings of colleges and universities.
Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University were rated separately, prior to the January 2013 merger. Both Brenau and Gainesville State received one star (in a four-star rating system) for their undergraduate elementary teaching programs.
NGCSU’s undergraduate elementary and undergraduate special education programs each received one star; the undergraduate and graduate secondary programs received 2.5 stars each.
NCTQ President Kate Walsh said the group’s findings show that “there’s a very high tolerance for mediocrity” nationally for teacher preparation programs.
Data collected included syllabi from program courses, and the admission requirements for each school.
“Right then and there, three out of four programs have substandard admissions policies,” she said. “Substandard being (they are) letting in students that are not in the top half of their class.”
She said that data were also collected in the areas of subject preparation, student-teaching experiences and classroom management.
Brenau and UNG representatives said that the results are inaccurate, collected from insufficient data, and don’t present accurate reflections of the programs.
For example, UNG Dean of the College of Education Bob Michael said that the department received no stars in the area of student teaching.
“Which means, basically, what we do in student teaching is totally ineffective,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We pride ourselves in our partnerships with our K-12 friends.
“I don’t even begin to understand where they got that kind of rating, or nonrating if you will,” he added.
NGCSU 2011 graduate Carter Corn was also mystified, saying that he received ample training in his field in preparation to become a teacher.
“It was a complete and total immersion in what you need to succeed in teaching,” he said.
Corn is a 7th-grade special education science teacher at Holcomb Bridge Middle School in Fulton County. A former special education student himself, he had returned to college in his early 30s for his teaching degree.
He said that he had several student-teaching experiences, and also felt extensively trained in planning, another area in which the school received no stars.
Sandra Leslie, dean of Brenau’s college of education, said she isn’t certain how the NCTQ received the data to accurately review and rate the institution.
“Our syllabi aren’t even on our website,” she said. “So they couldn’t even look at that.”
A report released about the methodology behind NCTQ’s research methods states that most institutions did not cooperate, and the group used open-records requests to gather the data used.
Walsh said that the organization also reached out to current college students to provide information from some institutions, a tactic it plans to continue to use in the future.
“Students actually can be more reliable sources because there’s no incentive for students to cheat,” she said. “They don’t doctor a syllabus to tell us something that’s not true.”
She added that the group did not rate or report on information it did not have.
Michael said that UNG sent the requested materials, but only after the group invoked the Freedom of Information Act.
“Document materials, syllabi, field placement manuals, internship handbooks ... things that tell you pretty much nothing other than here’s what we cover in our classes,” he said.
Michael, Leslie and Bellon all said that such materials cover only a small part of what is truly covered as an education major.
“If you look at how we were reviewed by the Georgia Professional Standard Commissions, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, syllabi (are) such a small part of what they’re looking at,” Michael said. “They’re looking at assessment results, placement results, the types of activities our kids go through, field placement, licensing results, things like that.”
While Walsh acknowledged that mistakes can be made in the rating system, she said she believes it is accurate and plans are in place for these ratings to be released annually. There were 608 institutions with data the NCTQ turned in to U.S. News & World Report, with the goal for next year being 800.
“We’re saying this is a consumer tool,” she said.
“We can certainly understand peoples’ sensitivities,” she continued. “These are all good people who have dedicated their lives to a very important job, (which is) training new teachers. But I think that we are simply acknowledging what everyone else has been saying (about teacher preparation). We’re simply trying to take a more active position here.”
But Corn said he doesn’t find the survey results particularly helpful.
“A rating system like that, is it scientific? Can I trust the data? Where did it come from?” he said.
“When I think about how the NCTQ came up with (its) ratings, it’s very interesting,” he continued. “I think to myself, ‘Were they there? Did they put themselves actually in the school and observe?’”
School leaders aren’t concerned with the results from a consumer standpoint, but more from a funding one.
“There’s a real concern that this will be used as an important piece in policymaking, and legislative decision-making,” Michael said, “but it’s based on totally inaccurate, if not misleading information.”
“I think that would be very sad to see that happen, that good programs might be cut or underfunded because of one group,” added UNG’s Bellon.
“It’s not a very good picture of what we do,” she continued. “Certainly by that, I can’t assume it’s a good picture of what anybody else does.”
The complete report can be downloaded at nctq.org.