Deans’ Reactions to Education School Ratings Spark Changes

Deans’ Reactions to Education School Ratings Spark Changes

Rating Spark Changes
Plans to publish grades for U.S. education schools in U.S. News and World Report have stirred up reaction from schools of education nationwide, including SESP. In response, the organization doing the evaluation is altering its methods and making its criteria more transparent.

In January the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) began its review of the nation’s nearly 1,400 education schools, with U.S. News intending to publish these assessments in fall 2012. The independent research group asked deans of schools of education for specific information to assist in the evaluation. The goal of the evaluation is to improve teacher preparation, which has significant impact on children’s learning. “Very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs,” says NCTQ.

In advance of the national review, NCTQ did a pilot program in Illinois this year, and Northwestern rated highest in the state.

Still, Dean Penelope Peterson signed a letter from 14 deans in the Deans Alliance, representing highly ranked education schools, which voices reservations about NCTQ’s methods. “The data collection process must itself be transparent and clear, the assessments must be reliable, and the presentation of findings must be honest and fair,” states the February 9 letter to U.S. News.

These deans maintain that while NCTQ’s standards refer to outcomes — the knowledge and abilities of teacher candidates — its methodology does not assess outcomes. They also object to NCTQ flunking an institution if it doesn’t provide the documents needed for the ratings.

Peterson told the New York Times that SESP would participate in the NCTQ review, despite misgivings. She says it’s better to make sure NCTQ gets the information it seeks than to allow the organization to rely on online information. Without the school’s information, Northwestern would have received 0 on four standards, she notes.

Another letter to U.S. News from Association of American Universities (AAU) education deans, which Peterson did not sign, raised numerous objections to the ratings. This larger group of deans emphasizes the need for more reliable and valid measures, as well as transparency about how NCTQ determines if schools meet standards. Again, the deans stress the need for a focus on outcomes, and they object to the failing grade for not providing documents.  “Our concern is … with the methodology for evaluating how schools meet the standards,” the deans state.

NCTQ responded to the deans’ concerns by making its grading criteria public on its web site. On the issue of measuring outcomes rather than intentions, NCTQ says it will add information on teacher candidates’ classroom performance to its evaluation, where available.  Also, the organization changed its plans to give failing grades to institutions not providing needed documents.

As the controversy unfolds, questions remain whether the changes will be enough to attract participation by schools of education.

In contrast with other U.S. News rankings, NCTQ plans to grade schools from A to F on up to 17 standards. These include classroom management, practice planning assignments, measurement and subject area preparation.

U.S. News defends the NCTQ standards and methodology. “In response to the concerns that you and other institutions are raising, we will be developing a new standard on the value added by graduates of teacher preparation programs, where such data are available,” U.S. News editor Brian Kelly writes in a letter to AAU deans. He urges them to look at the big picture. “There are far too many programs in the U.S. that continue to prepare teachers poorly, year in and year out.”

Despite the dissension, one thing all parties can agree on is that the public sees shortcomings in teacher preparation and wants well-prepared teachers to ensure students’ learning.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/22/11