Faculty discredit SDSU teacher education program’s low ranking

by Adam Burkhart

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A hallway in the Education and Business Administration building at San Diego State. SDSU professors question the legitimacy of recent teacher credential program’s criticisms.

A study published in June examining the quality of teacher education programs across the nation is receiving widespread criticism from teacher education professionals, who fault the study’s methodology.

The report came from the National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization for teacher policy reform, which published its findings with the U.S. News & World Report and on its own website.

The council assigned these programs a ranking of a possible four stars according to how well each program prepares its teacher candidates. The report provided rankings for 1,200 programs at 608 universities.

Less than 10 percent of programs rated received a ranking of three or more stars.

“Unfortunately, what we found … is generally speaking a discouraging picture,” Arthur Mckee, managing director and co-author of the report, said.

Two programs at San Diego State’s School of Teacher Education received low rankings. The elementary and secondary teacher education programs received rankings of one star and zero stars respectively, with the latter being designated with a “consumer warning,” according to the report.

Director and professor of the School of Teacher Education Scot Danforth dismissed the report saying as other teacher educators, that its methodology is unscientific.

“They didn’t turn and try to publish their study as I would, or as people who work on this stuff all the time, in a scientific journal, because those journals would have turned it down,” Danforth said.

Faculty from several San Diego universities given low ratings, including California State University San Marcos, University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University have said the council relied on incomplete data to produce its rankings, according to a report in the U-T San Diego.

The council originally looked at 1,130 schools in preparing its report. More than 20 percent of those schools fully cooperated with the council by providing the materials it requested, Mckee said.

According to the report, The council assessed programs on a set of key standards based on the demands of the Common Core State Standards—subject-specific content standards adopted by states–expert views, the practices of high-performing nations and states, and a literature review of research bearing on teacher education, according to the report.

The controversy stems from how the council went about making its assessments: by collecting materials such as syllabi, lists of course textbooks and student teacher handbooks, as well as information on graduate surveys, evaluation projects and admissions standards.

“We’re trying to find out how it is the programs (are) defined and whether or not they meet the standards that we have articulated,” Mckee said.

Mckee defended the study’s findings, saying that many programs’ curricula do not reflect the current scientific research behind effective learning, such as the ways children best learn to read.

Ross Goldman graduated from SDSU in spring with a credential to teach high school math. He begins his new job teaching at San Marcos High School in August.

“It shocks me that SDSU got such a low rating,” he said. “I honestly thought it prepped me really well.”

Goldman said that he was lucky that his guide teachers worked closely with him and gave him regular feedback. However, he admitted the possibility that others in his program may have not been assigned guide teachers as strong as his. A situation that was mentioned in the report, which found that just 7 percent of programs ensure candidates a uniform experience with competent teachers.

“I think a lot of it also was that I was really personally driven,” he said. “The teachers can only do so much in the two hours that they have or the hour that they have with you every week. You need to take it upon yourself. Isn’t that what we expect out of our high school students or our middle school students?”

Danforth said there are strong criticisms to be made of teacher education, but that research needs to meet certain standards in order to be considered.

“All they did was look at what we would call inputs: What’s in your courses? What’s in the syllabi?” Danforth said. “It doesn’t tell you about the outcomes, it doesn’t tell you about the actual learning.”

SDSU uses a performance assessment for its candidates know as edTPA that was developed by faculty at Stanford University. The assessment is a graduation requirement for its student teachers that helps schools identify strengths and weaknesses in their programs. In addition, SDSU sends surveys to principals and supervisors of its programs’ graduates to measure their preparedness.

The council rated programs by evaluating the criteria in these kinds of surveys and evaluations without taking into account the information they collect.

“We’re not looking at the completed evaluation form, we’re looking at the template,” Mckee said.

The council’s suggestions for improving teacher education are not expensive for schools to implement, Mckee said. For instance, limiting teacher candidate admissions to students in the top half of their class, a policy which the council found in practice at more than one quarter of programs.

“It’s over simplistic to just say teachers—new teachers—are underprepared,” Danforth said. He said teacher preparation entails cooperation between teacher education programs and schools that focuses on new and seasoned teachers alike.

“Teacher preparation is just the first step in a career that lasts 30 years,” Danforth said.