In mid-June, an organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rated the programs that prepare and certify school teachers across the nation’s colleges of education. The report has been widely criticized partly because the organization itself, despite its lofty name, is dominated by those on the far-right who advocate for alternative programs for certification, shorter programs that require neither college training in teaching methodology, nor the psychology, sociology, or philosophy of education, nor supervised and mentored student teaching. Its advisory board includes Wendy Kopp, for example, the founder and chairperson of Teach for America. But more broadly the report has been castigated because it does not thoroughly examine the experiences and supervision of candidates for certification at the nation’s teachers’ colleges.
Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University and chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, critiqued the report: “NCTQ’s methodology is a paper review of published course requirements and course syllabi against a check list that does not consider the actual quality of instruction that the programs offer, evidence of what their students learn, or whether graduates can actually teach. Concerns about the organization’s methods led most schools of education nationally and in California to decline to participate in the data collection… NCTQ collected documents through websites and public records requests. The ratings published in this report are, thus, based on partial and often inaccurate data, and fail to evaluate teacher education quality.”
Dr. Darling-Hammond’s critique ought to stop us right there, but, perhaps because NCTQ’s name sounds impressive, the report by NCTQ continues to be discussed. Much of the critique of colleges of education also reflects a thoughtless social class bias.
In Reflections on Harriet Ball, Teaching, and Teacher Education, Mike Rose responds to those who continue to lift up the NCTQ report as though it has merit. Rose, a professor of education at UCLA, is the author of Possible Lives, the story of visits to the classrooms of excellent teachers during a four year trip in the mid 1990s across the United States. In his recent post about the NCTQ report, Rose recommends a video about the late Harriet Ball, a graduate of Huston-Tillotson University, a small Historically Black College in Austin, Texas. On its website Huston-Tillotson boasts a 90 percent acceptance rate; its mission is to serve as the antithesis of the kind of the kind of elite university where Teach for America is noted for seeking its recruits. Rose writes: “What is worrisome is that in the drive for improvement, reformers can narrowly define “quality” as, for example, the pedigree of a prospective teacher’s undergraduate institution, or the selectivity of that teacher’s education program. We need to throw a wide net in recruiting teachers, tapping a range of backgrounds and talents.”
Rose continues: “How about this? What if all the philanthropies that supported the questionable report from the Council on Teacher Quality contributed an equal amount to a less partisan organization to study excellent teachers who come from modest backgrounds and attend their local (and often less selective) colleges? How did they get so good? What did they bring with them and what did their programs nurture? How can we recruit more like them”
For me Rose’s reflection strikes a personal cord. My father, and for a couple of years my mother too, taught at the tiny Northern Montana College in Havre, Montana. In 1960 when my father joined the history department, “Northern” as it was called, was a two-year normal school. At the time school teachers in Montana were still granted teaching credentials as part of two-year degrees, although four-year certification very soon became a requirement. The epitome of a local and non-selective institution, Northern existed for the purpose of providing the teachers, principals and school superintendents for the tiny towns along Northern Montana’s Hi-Line, the area that tracks U.S. Highway 2 between North Dakota and Glacier National Park. When I returned to Havre several years ago for my high school reunion, I talked with my classmates, many of them Northern’s graduates who have devoted their careers to public education as the center of their communities. The value of this tiny teachers’ college is so deeply woven into the lives of the people in the region that it is impossible for me to imagine its absence. In such a context the rankings and ratings of something like NCTQ have no meaning.