U.S. News & World Report will publish rankings of teacher training schools.
Just as more teachers are facing performance rankings of their work, dozens of teacher training schools in California will be judged for the first time in a nationwide survey set for publication in U.S. News and World Report.
The planned rankings come against a backdrop of plummeting enrollment in California's teacher training programs, as well as harsh criticisms of these programs, including a now famous blast from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He described schools of education as doing "a mediocre job" and in need of "revolutionary change, not evolutionary tinkering."
Ranking California's 77 teacher training programs and some 1,300 others nationwide will be the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality, with $3.5 million in private foundation grants. The largest donor is the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, which has been a leading force in promoting charter school organizations in California and nationally, among other reforms.
The programs will be ranked on 17 criteria, said Arthur McKee, the organization's managing director for teacher preparation studies. The results will be published in U.S. News and World Report in fall 2012.
He said that rather than being defensive about the project, schools that are doing a good job should welcome the scrutiny. The rankings, he said, would help students decide which programs to enroll in – as well as help school districts make choices about which graduates they should hire.
"The general perception is that schools of education are mediocre or worse, but there are good programs, and they have been painted with the same brush as everyone else," McKee told California Watch.
At the same time, he said, "there is a lot of mediocrity here, and we believe we will find programs that will be so bad that they don't meet any reasonable standard for training teachers."
Schools will have a powerful incentive to provide requested information to carry out the rankings, he said. Schools will simply be given an F in each category where they have failed to provide information.
"We will fail them on the information we don't get," McKee said.
David Pearson, professor of education at UC Berkeley, and former dean of its School of Education, said he was not opposed to the planned rankings. "Americans like to rank everything from football teams to how well kids do in science fairs, even if the rankings are not based on sound methodology" he said.
At the same time, Pearson, who was chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing between 2006 and 2008, said he would not be surprised if some higher education organizations representing a number of teacher training programs decide "en masse" not to participate.
He said there is a tremendous range in the quality of teacher training programs. "There are some absolutely stunning programs, and at the lower end of there are programs that are problematic, in both their theory and research base, and in the quality of the clinical experience students get," he said.
The higher education community "recognizes that teacher training programs need to be changed, and need to be changed dramatically," he said, pointing for example to the work of University of Michigan School of Education Dean Deborah Ball, who focuses on improving math instruction, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
He said that teacher education programs tend to veer from one reform to another, based on the reform of the moment. Some educators have insisted that what is important is teachers knowing the subject and content they are going to teach. Others say giving them knowledge about the "how to" of teaching is paramount. Yet others say that most important is having beginning teachers work as apprentices under the tutelage of highly skilled practitioners.
Pearson says all three elements are important. "Any approach that tries to single out one of these three components is going to fall short," he said.
While improving the quality of teacher training is undoubtedly important, a major challenge will be attracting students to the profession in the first place. Enrollments in California's teacher training programs have declined by 45 percent over the past decade – from 77,705 in 2001-02 to 42,245 in 2008-09, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
So what will also have to be addressed are the multiple forces discouraging students from enrolling in a teacher training program, including low starting salaries, tough working conditions in many schools, pressures to close an achievement gap that has been resistant to numerous reforms, and the more recent threat of being exposed in the media as being "ineffective" based on student test scores.