Honest report on teacher prep got a bad rap: Criticism of group was unfair and based on fallacies — and it’s coming mainly from education schools

June 15, 2013

As a former teacher, school administrator and a current member of the National Council on Teacher Quality advisory board, I was not surprised to see criticism arise over a new NCTQ report, rating the effectiveness of teacher preparation schools and programs across the country.

The report is controversial; criticism is fair play.

What is not fair play is criticism built on false assertions and outdated facts.

An opinion piece in last Sunday’s Crossroads by three executive committee members of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education does a public disservice by mischaracterizing many aspects of the report, NCTQ Teacher Prep Review, and the organization itself (“Group rating teacher preparation deserves close scrutiny”).

I would like to correct the record on some of the more egregious points.

The authors point out that NCTQ was founded in 2000 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which they describe as a conservative think tank that regularly promotes school vouchers, privatization and other policies that reflect a clearly partisan slant on public education. They say NCTQ regards the foundation as a “sister” organization.

NCTQ has never described the foundation as a sister organization. Nor is NCTQ conservative. Its executive director is a Democrat, once appointed by a Democratic governor to a state school board. The NCTQ board is comprised of Democrats and Republicans. We are nonpartisan.

The authors say Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and former U.S. assistant secretary of education in the first Bush administration, sat on the Fordham Foundation board in 2000 and described NCTQ “as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools”

The authors were correct so far as they went in describing Ravitch’s work history. But NCTQ reconstituted its board in 2003, making it entirely nonpolitical in context and agenda.

The authors charge that the “research” strategies NCTQ used in preparing its upcoming report “have been widely criticized by scholars and non-biased researchers.”

Not true. Only ed schools have criticized it.

They further accuse NCTQ of using the “bully strategy of demanding that deans and directors of programs produce, at their own considerable expense” the documents used for evaluations.

Again, not true. Requests were made. When institutions refused, NCTQ turned to open records and paid reasonable open records fees to any institution that asked.

The authors claim that NCTQ graded programs with or without the requested documents.

False. NCTQ only rated programs once it obtained the documents needed from the institution or from students who attend the programs.

As for another charge, that methods NCTQ used to acquire documents are borderline unethical, that’s an entirely subjective charge.

NCTQ did nothing illegal in researching the report. NCTQ asked programs producing public school teachers to cooperate. More fair-minded observers than the authors have endorsed the report, including 23 school chiefs, 100 school superintendents, the Council of Great City Schools and 74 education advocacy groups. The fact that some institutions refused to cooperate does not mean that they have no public responsibility to be transparent.

These supporters recognized the real message in the report, that America’s teacher preparation programs are failing America’s aspiring teachers — and, in the process, cheating schoolchildren and wasting taxpayer dollars. In that regard, I’m happy that the three critics did not dispute our central point, that more than three quarters of the programs rated, a fully 78%, were judged mediocre at best.

Honest criticism is fair — it spurs healthy debate. But this kind of criticism is not. In fact, it serves no purpose at all.

Deborah McGriff taught for nine years, served as a former Deputy Superintendent in Milwaukee Public Schools and Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools. She is currently a partner with the NewSchools Venture Fund.