Tennessee was lauded Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for its concentration of high-quality teacher training programs and a revamped evaluation system.

Tennessee’s legislators in recent years have changed the way teachers are certified and evaluated in an effort to weed out chronically-underperforming teachers.  Many efforts to improve the state’s teaching corps have been targeted toward the state’s teachers’ colleges.

Tennessee was one of just three states (Texas and Ohio were the others) in the country receiving such recognition by the organization which based its rankings on admissions, content preparation and practice teaching.

“Tennessee is one of the highest performing states in the review,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.  “We attribute at least some of that to strong regulation.  The state has passed some high impact regulations and teachers are tested in every subject they’re going to teach.  The state also has a really good state-wide evaluation with TEAM (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model).”

TEAM is one of the models used in the state to evaluate teacher performance. It’s largely based on data and classroom observations.   Tennessee teachers and their advocacy groups have protested the use of test scores and observations, saying they are an inaccurate and incomplete picture of a teacher’s skillsets.  

Lipscomb University in Nashville was ranked the second top school in the country for educating middle and high school teachers and 14th in the country for educating elementary teachers.  The organization cited, among other things, the school’s “thorough” admissions process for its graduate elementary program.

NCTQ, a non-partisan group that advocates for teacher reform, looks for colleges that are raising their standards for students to get into teacher prep programs.

“It’s too easy to get into a school of education,” Walsh said.

The University of Memphis, where Shelby County Schools gets a large portion of its teaching staff, is doing just that in fall.

Beginning this fall, U of M students entering the school’s teacher education program must have a 3.0 grade point average.  The current requirement is 2.75 grade point average. The school’s program ranked 27th in elementary and 28th in secondary education.

“We’re using testing data to guide instruction to meet the needs of the student (teachers) on the elementary level with struggling readers and on the secondary level to improve assessment and data, which also helps with classroom management,”  said Ernest Rakow, interim dean for college of education, health and human science.

Middle Tennessee State University, Union University, Vanderbilt University, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, University of Tennessee at Martin, Austin Peay State University, Maryville College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were also given high rankings in the report.

The report also raises concern about alternative certification programs which allow people to teach without a traditional education degree or license.

In the examination of the alternative certification programs, researchers looked at admission requirements, early supports and practices.  Walsh said researchers were concerned that too many programs were making it sound “easy” to become a teacher.

Teach Tennessee, a Tennessee Department of Education program, received a D-minus in the study.

The state’s policy allows alternative certification teachers to forgo testing if they have 24 credits of schedule course hours of relevant coursework on their college transcript.

Walsh added the purpose of the study is to give potential students the information about which colleges and universities are best preparing teachers.  “We need to engage the consumers and give them really good information so they can make better choices on what programs to avoid and consume,” she said. “We want to use the power of the marketplace to force programs to feel the competition to change because it’s incumbent upon them to change.”

Critics of the annual NCTQ study have argued that the organization evaluates 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.

Read the full study here.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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