NCTQ: Most teacher prep is mediocre

Ohio State was the top-rated teacher education program in the country.

University teacher education is an “industry of mediocrity,” concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review 2013.  The “vast majority of the 1,430 education programs that prepare the nation’s K-12 teachers” churn out “first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

Less than 10 percent of rated programs earned 3 out of 4 stars. Only four programs — all at the secondary level — earned 4. Ohio State, which earned 3½ stars for preparing elementary teachers and 4 stars for secondary teachers, was the top-ranked program, followed by Lipscomb and Vanderbilt in Tennessee and Furman University in South Carolina.

* Just over a quarter of programs restrict admissions to students in the top half of their class, compared with the highest-performing countries, which limit entry to the top third.

* Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in classrooms in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

* Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers, from 30 percent to under 10 percent. Instead, the teacher candidate is all too often told to develop his or her “own unique approach” to teaching reading.

* Just 7 percent of programs ensure that their student teachers will have uniformly strong experiences, such as only allowing them to be placed in classrooms taught by teachers who are themselves effective, not just willing volunteers.

While 239,000 teachers are trained each year, only 98,000 are hired, the report finds. Admitting the marginally qualified is profitable for ed schools, which often serve as cash cows for their universities, but not for their students.

“You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools,” said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. “If policymakers took this report seriously, they’d be shutting down hundreds of programs.”

The ratings are very controversial, notes the Washington Post. Some education schools refused to cooperate with NCTQ. “Take it with a salt shaker full of salt,” said Linda Darling Hammond, an expert on teacher education at Stanford University.

About Joanne


  1. Not that I expect much in the way of a constructive response to the contrary but why would anyone expect anything other then a mediocre, if not worse, teacher education system?

    Hiring agencies don’t demand any evidence of teaching skill beyond a teaching certificate, nor value teaching skill on the job, so why should ed schools provide more then is asked of them?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    University teacher education is an “industry of mediocrity” because nobody knows how to create good teachers. Nobody. How could it be otherwise when there are no good measures of “teacher quality.”

    One might suppose that NCTQ’s ranking of teacher preparation programs would be backed up by comparison of teacher performance. One might suppose there would be pages of tables showing that kids who have teachers from Ohio State do slightly better than kids who have teachers from Vanderbilt and Furman–and so on. One would be wrong. Very very wrong.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Actually, the Germans, Japanese and possibly the Fins have come some way in figuring out how to create good teachers. It’s not an unsolvable puzzle.

      • SuperSub says:

        Do they create good teachers, or do they effectively recruit good teachers?

        • stacy in nj says:

          Good question. They recruit good teaches because “teacher” is a job description with a particular cachet and respectability.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I’m not sure the Germans, Japanese, or Finns have figured it out any better than we have. On international tests like the PISA and TIMSS, their students do no better than American students at “good” schools or even in entire states. If Massachusetts and Minnesota were separate countries, their students would rank near the top in the world.

        I see two interlocking reasons why nobody has a reliable recipe for creating good teachers. First, there is no agreement in the business about what students are supposed to get out of school. What makes a school a success? Is it turning out nice people? Certainly, most schools see that as a major purpose, though they will use fancier words, like “interpersonal skills.” Is it transmitting a body of factual knowledge? If so, most every middle or high school everywhere in the world is a failure. Most students retain little of their course knowledge a year later. Is it “critical thinking” or some such?

        Partly because there is no agreement on what schools should do, there is no measurement of whether they have done it. If you don’t know whether teachers have done what they are supposed to do, it is impossible to know which ones are better or worse. And if we don’t know which ones are better or worse, it is impossible to know how to make ones who are better.

        So we muddle through.

        • It could also be that there’s no universal ‘good teacher,’ because there’s no universal ‘student.’ Maybe, for instance, a high-achieving kid who loves science needs a different sort of teacher than a child who comes from a background which denies the value of education.

          The first child just needs a teacher who knows science really well and is willing to teach to his level. The second child may need someone who can show him WHY education matters. It’s insanity to expect the same teacher to be a good fit for both.

          Even with two kids from the same background— my favorite HS teacher was my sister’s least favorite. I LOVED the way he went into the history of science, how we figured out this stuff, and the derrivations of every equation (I understand stuff better if I can see where it comes from.)

          My sister hated him because he gave all this extra information, but he wasn’t goofy and manaical like the other physics teacher.

          So while I thought he was the most incredible teacher ever, she loathed him.

          ‘Good teacher who reaches students’ is highly subjective.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I completely agree that there is no universal “good teacher” because there is no universal “student.” And even if every student were exactly the same, that student in twelfth grade would be very different than she was in first grade.

            The question is, who is good for whom? To that question, I’m not sure what can be said for you and your sister and those different teachers. You certainly enjoyed the one more and your sister enjoyed the other more. But aside from a less happy experience, would you have gotten less of what matters from the other teacher?

            Of course, that requires some conception of “what matters.” And who says an unhappy experience doesn’t matter?

          • stacy in nj says:

            As a person who works as professional designer (interior and commercial) it’s incredibly obvious to me that different students need different types of teachers. While I appreciate the value of the scientist and engineer to society, I feel no desire to emulate it. Every time you (general “you”) walk into a space that evokes a particular feeling and you express it in your behavior, I understand the value of what I do. why can’t we acknowledge that different people need and value different type of education? Not everyone requires, not only requires but DESIRES, a degree in the fine arts or sciences. Why can’t respect the abilities, needs, desires, and aspirations of our fellow citizens?

    • Is it that nobody knows how to create good teachers or that, to the people who matter, the difference between a good and a bad teacher is largely immaterial?

      The latter inevitably results in the former. For the former to precede the latter the creation of a good teacher has to be such a difficult task as to be only rarely accomplished.

      Come on, which is the more credible proposition?

  3. The rankings themselves are very flawed (partly because of program design, partly because of non-participation by ed programs). But at least they start the conversation.

    The ones that are designated as good will get more attention to how they go about educating future teachers. The ones that are designated as bad will get extra scrutiny (even though some of the points they lost are for items that are questionable).

    Other researchers will dig deeper into the things that matter. I’m glad that teacher education will no longer be a black box. Weak students should not be entering the profession (yes, I know, getting a good GPA is not the only measure of a good teacher); strong students will be encouraged that teacher training would not be a wasteland for them, as so many now do. Curriculum at teacher training institutions will have to improve; student teaching will happen earlier on and more rigorously.

    • But what is it about the conversation that precluded starting it a hundred years ago?

      The problem with your predictions is that they are just that – predictions.

      There shouldn’t be anything remotely contentious about trying to determine which ed school, and which teacher, is good and which is bad yet it is highly contentious.

      Absent an understanding of why that state of affairs exists, and doing something about it, the result is likely to be a great deal of time and money wasted to no noticeable benefit.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        “There shouldn’t be anything remotely contentious about trying to determine which ed school, and which teacher, is good and which is bad”

        With all due respect, that is a ridiculous statement. There are no good data relating student performance to individual teachers or ed schools. So all that is left is contention.

        It’s kind of like arguing which is the better baseball team when no records were kept of the games they played.

        • No, it’s not ridiculous.

          It’s the perfectly obvious result of the degree of importance placed on the outcome.

          The public education system doesn’t place any importance on whether education occurs thus there’s no effort to measure outcomes. Baseball teams, by contrast, are very concerned with winning and losing. So they gather lots of statistics and use them to improve performance.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            allen, I think we are “violently agreeing.” There is pretty good agreement on which baseball team is better or worse because voluminous records are kept. We can be fairly sure that when a number of teams play each other, the team that wins the most is better than the team that wins the least.

            In education, there are no equivalent records kept. I wasn’t arguing why such records aren’t kept, simply emphasizing the fact that they aren’t.

          • I know the records aren’t kept in education. I’m spelunking into the “why”.

            I’m not satisfied to simply accept that the records aren’t kept, have never been and that the notion of breaking with past practice in this is a cause for much dissension and heartburn. There’s a reason that a practice as obvious as measuring performance over time isn’t a part of public education and that’s what I’m pointing at – the underlying reason.

            So we’re not really agreeing, violently or otherwise. You observe the fact of the absence of actions designed to improve the performance of the public education system and are satisfied with the observation. I’m not.

  4. BadaBing says:

    I read not long ago that classrooms need dynamic and charismatic teachers. Can dynamism and charisma be taught? Is that what we really need? Can the dynamism and charisma of teachers be sustained, and if so, for how long? The call for this came on the cusp of the popularity of Freedom Writers, a film that did not impress me one iota. However, our then-principal thought every teacher in the school should see it.

  5. But we already knew this anecdotally — ask any teacher what classes they took were the most poorly taught and the least rigorous.

  6. To Stacy – Regarding the Japanese – It helps if you have a population with an average IQ of 108.

    • I think education classes are particularly bad, but I do wonder if the fields that actually rigorously prepare people for particular jobs are really the most exceptional. Don’t most people in most careers learn the particulars of how to do the job while they are trained on the job, at least in their first employment? Medical fields are excepted, but generally did your college actually prepare you to perform your job or did your college just provide you the necessary background information to be able to do the job that you were later trained for, according to how your company wanted it done?

      • Some education classes were good for the basics like special education (for example: what is an IEP and a 504), how to write a lesson plan, what are the standards, health requirements, and where did get information about a student (the cume file, their test scores). However with day to day issues, they absolutely suck. My fellow classmates and I said that there was Real World and University World when it comes to education. I learned much more from my student teaching than anything at the university.

        I had one teacher who I mentored during her first year of actual teaching. She quit after that year because the university did not prepare her at all for the real world. Even with her student teaching assignment, she was given a placement at a very top school. When she got low level classes, she could not handle them. She realized she was not cut out for teaching and that her last 3 years were a waste because she never learned true classroom control.

    • stacy in nj says:

      Yes. Well what about the Fins and Germans? Do they have on average a higher IQ (this is really an excuse) then we do?

  7. Ted Craig says:

    Three observations:
    1. I wonder if we could staff schools by limiting admissions to the top third. This might be a reflection of the more diverse options for students in the U.S. compared to countries like Finland.
    2. The part about admission bloat is true of most non-STEM programs, not just education.
    3. Due to scheduling issues, my wife spent a semester at a vocation-oriented university while getting her education degree from a traditional public university school. She said the students were of a lower quality at the voc school, but the classes were better in many ways because they focused more on the nuts and bolts.

  8. All Ed Schools are a fraud. They’re a waste of money and time. If you got a Bachelor’s or Master’s or god forbid a PhD in Ed – you poor, poor sap. And 97% of its most famous philosophers, from Dewey to Gardner, are all frauds too. They talk about the brain with no biology or medical knowledge, just to give one of a thousand examples. It’s really disgusting when you think about it – it’s like legalized brainwashing of the masses. A propoganda farm.

    • stacy in nj says:

      This made me lol. My dear mother-in-law -whom I respect – has a masters in ed. She characterized the ed masters as a joke of a hoop jump that she accomplished to get a higher salary.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    “University teacher education is an ‘industry of mediocrity,’ concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review 2013. The ‘vast majority of the 1,430 education programs that prepare the nation’s K-12 teachers’ churn out ‘first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.’”


    I bet that the top 1,430 colleges/universities in the country are an “industry of mediocrity”, too. It is very difficult to get millions of people trained and get very much more than mediocre. In anything.