Teaching Colleges Remain Wary of Survey

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A national survey of the nation's teaching colleges has run into trouble getting private colleges to participate, many of which are located in New York City.

The review is being conducted by the non-profit National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C., which will publish a report grading the schools in March in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report. It says it's responding to long-standing concerns about the low standards and quality of the nation's 1400 teaching colleges, which have come under scrutiny by the Obama Administration. But the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year on how private teaching colleges around the country have declined to participate in the review.

The council is planning to finish its review this fall but its president, Kate Walsh, said only three private institutions of higher education in New York state have participated in the survey: Syracuse, Concordia College in Bronxville and Five Towns College on Long Island.

Nationally, she said, just about 5 percent of private colleges have participated. But she said New York is critical because it's a feeder state.

"New York has more schools of education than any other state in the country," she explained, adding that its graduates work all over the country.

The council has obtained materials from public colleges, including SUNY, through state open records laws. It is examining syllabi, course descriptions, textbooks, student teaching manuals and graduate surveys.

The presidents of New York University, Fordham, Pace and several other private teaching colleges in New York state signed a letter last year explaining their opposition to the national review. They expressed concerns that the council is putting too much emphasis on course syllabi, calling it an "overly narrow, simplistic approach" that is also based on an invalid premise "that inputs are actually predictors of programmatic outcomes."

Mary Brabeck, dean of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, said her school has not changed its mind since then.

“Everyone wants our children to have the best teachers and we welcome efforts to improve teacher education," she said, in an email. "We are happy to participate in evaluations to achieve that. However, the evaluation must be guided by a lot more rigor than NCTQ has demonstrated. Currently, the survey relies on standards that appear arbitrary and unsupported by research, and it uses them to draw incorrect conclusions. It's a poor methodology."

Ms. Walsh said her reviewers are looking at 18 different standards, including teacher preparation.

"We want to see if they're teaching elementary teachers how to teach reading using good strong methods," she said. "We want to know if the elementary teachers are learning sufficient math to confidently go into a classroom and be able to teach math."

The council is also looking to see how selective the institutions are in their admissions. She said schools of education have such low admissions standards in some cases that it's easier to become a teacher than to become a football player. The review will also look at outcomes, and whether the institutions track their graduates' progress.

If the private schools don't voluntarily turn over their materials, Ms. Walsh said her council will continue to gather the materials from professors and students. But she says she is running up against a March deadline, when the A-F reviews of all 1,400 teaching colleges are scheduled to be published.

"We continue to reach out to these programs to remind them that they are publicly approved to prepare public school teachers," she said, "and with that comes some obligation to be publicly transparent in their methods and in their programs."