Colorado

New report ranks Colorado teacher training programs poorly

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Distribution of ratings across programs nationally. Source: National Council on Teacher Quality.

An already-controversial new report from the advocacy group the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) argues that the vast majority of college- and university-level teacher training programs — including most in Colorado — are insufficiently preparing new teachers for the classroom.

“They have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity,” the report states.

Of 1,200 elementary and secondary education training programs for which NCTQ awarded ratings on a four-star scale, no programs in Colorado were awarded more than two and a half stars.

The report ranked programs at 13 Colorado institutions, including 20 undergraduate and six graduate-level elementary and secondary education programs. Of those, only Colorado State University’s undergraduate secondary education program and the University of Colorado – Boulder’s undergraduate elementary education program were rated two and a half stars. The rest received ratings of two stars or below, “ratings that connote, at best, mediocrity,” the report states.

Eight of the state’s programs received no stars. “While these low-rated institutions certainly can produce good teachers, it is less by design than happenstance: a chance placement with a great mentor or assignment to a strong section of an otherwise weak course,” the report argues.

NCTQ’s effort to collect data on and then rate teacher training programs has been controversial from the start. Leaders of many educator training programs have raised concerns about the project’s methodology, arguing that the data that NCTQ collected cannot provide a complete picture of the training experience the schools offer.

Many education schools resisted supplying the data that NCTQ requested (which led to legal battles with some of the schools) and the amount and quality of data available varied from program to program. The University of Denver and the University of Northern Colorado both declined to provide NCTQ data; both schools were given ratings based on data the organization was able to obtain through independent channels.

While the report’s authors collected data on 16 different standards, they were able to base their ratings of all of the elementary and secondary programs included on just a few: selection criteria, content preparation and student teaching. Elementary education programs were also rated on early reading and elementary mathematics preparation. An average of 58 percent of the programs were able to be judged on all of the standards.

“We have created the largest database on teacher preparation ever assembled, with information from thousands of syllabi, textbooks, student teaching handbooks, student teacher observation instruments and other material,” the report says.

But Eugene Sheehan, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, said that such a method judges only how well a school’s offerings adhere to a uniform and maybe questionable set of criteria rather than judging how well teaching methods work in practice.

“It’s like counting how many books you have in the library rather than counting the number of people who read them,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also questioned some of the criteria that the NCTQ used to determine the quality of a program. For example, the report looks at whether a teacher training program draws its students from the top half of their classes academically.

“If you look at that criteria, only the top universities in the country would be training teachers and we’d be screening out many many minorities who would make great teachers,” he said.

Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education and CU-Boulder, said that in addition to concerns about some of the criteria, some of the rules regarding whether a school’s program was counted as meeting NCTQ’s criteria muddle the picture. For example, raters used a single syllabus to judge whether CU-Boulder’s program met the requirements for early reading; had they looked at both required reading courses, Shepard said, raters would have seen that the program does meet the criteria.

“A pretty good and deep program could be denied points in their system,” Shepard said.

Colorado is in the midst of developing a system that will trace data about individual teachers from their training institutions to the schools where they teach and in turn linking them to their student’s outcome data. Deans at several Colorado education schools today said that the coming system will be a more useful tool for judging the effectiveness of teacher training and identifying areas for improvement. Several schools in Colorado, including the University of Northern Colorado and CU-Boulder, also internally track the trajectories of their students, including job placements and district evaluations of student teacher quality.

“Measuring the quality of teacher education is a critical job for the media and for watchdog groups,” said Gregory Anderson, dean of the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. “But [NCTQ] isn’t doing that.”

The president of NCTQ, Kate Walsh, told reporters today that such criticisms amounted to making the perfect the enemy of the good. “We are looking 12 inches deep by looking at these documents, so our level of depth isn’t as anyone would ideally be looking,” she said. “But our 12-inch examination reveals a lot because there is so much dysfunction.”

In addition to publicizing the ratings, Walsh said that the data would soon be provided to school districts to allow them to screen candidates according to where they were trained. “With this data, we are setting in place market forces that will spur underachieving programs to recognize their shortcomings and adopt methods used by the high scorers,” the report states.

But American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten questioned whether that approach would lead to better practice in educator training programs.

“It’s disappointing that for something as important as strengthening teacher preparation programs, NCTQ chose to use the gimmick of a four-star rating system without using professionally accepted standards, visiting any of the institutions or talking with any of the graduates,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Best-of and worst-of lists always garner attention, so we understand why NCTQ would use that device. While its ‘do not enter’ consumer alerts will make the intended splash, it’s hard to see how it will help strengthen teacher preparation programs or elevate the teaching profession.”

Local funders of the project include the Anschutz Foundation and the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which also funds EdNews Colorado.

Read the full report on the council’s website, and ratings for Colorado programs are below (the triangular symbols denote zero stars and a “consumer alert”).

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School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede