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Texas Ed School Study Highlights Disparate Preparation

The National Council on Teacher Quality's big review of 67 Texas education schools is finally out.

In what will no doubt drive headlines in the Lone Star State, the report says that eight large programs that prepare a significant number of teachers are in need of some serious attention. They are Lamar University, Midwestern State University, Our Lady of the Lake University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University, and Texas Woman's University.

Lest you think NCTQ is all about criticism, the council also found four programs it deems worthy of commendation: Dallas Baptist University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas -- Pan American, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The council didn't rate all of the schools it studied because it felt it didn't have enough information on some of them and needed to conduct a more thorough review.

Before the report came out, school leaders blasted the study and its methodology, while 31 district superintendents commended the review. Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle does a nice job summarizing all of that in her story here, so I won't bother repeating it. But the disparity is interesting to hear because groups like the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education are increasingly pushing for partnerships between districts and universities in the preparation of teachers; this suggests there's still a way to go on that front.

Absent an agreed-upon national set of preparation standards, the council created its own set of design standards. In other words, it looked at what it thought were fundamental building blocks for a good program, but did not assess the quality of actual instruction. What that means in practice is that folks are likely to quibble not just about the specific ratings but whether this set of standards is fair and appropriate.

Arguably, the study's most interesting finding is that there is a lack of agreement in these institutions about what coursework teachers should take.

For instance: In Texas schools, there are six different models for preparing teachers in mathematics. Some require teachers to take math coursework especially designed for teacher-candidates, some to take general college math coursework, others to take a combination of those, and still others to take math-pedagogy classes.

Another example: The number of biology courses required for middle school science preparation ranges from as few as one to as many as nine.

I asked Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ, to elaborate a bit on this. "There has been an enormous reluctance, and I think it's due to a misguided sense of academic freedom, to specify what it is that teachers need," she said. "That's why I can certainly appreciate the feelings of the ed schools that say, 'Who does NCTQ think it is telling us how much coursework to have?' Because it is such unfamiliar terrain for them."

While definitely critical of the Texas schools as a whole, NCTQ names at least one or two institutions that are exemplars on each standard. It notes, also, that the schools generally do a good job preparing high school teachers in English, history, and math (if not science and social studies).

More to come on this front. NCTQ is working with U.S. News and World Report to do a nationwide look at education schools, for release, they hope, in 2012.

We'll have reaction from education schools as it comes in.

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