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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defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.