School of Education Responds to Controversial NCTQ Report

biklenIn response to a growing national debate over teacher quality, the School of Education posted an explanation on its website this week about its approach to training teachers who will perform at the highest level.

In announcing this new web posting, Dean Douglas Biklen says, “Syracuse University’s School of Education echoes the importance of ensuring teacher quality. We are especially proud that in a recent survey of school superintendents conducted by U.S. News & World Report, they rated us 12th in the entire country for all university and college education programs.”

One of the most distinguishing features of the Syracuse programs is the fact that students have many practical placements in area urban and suburban schools prior to graduation, spanning Central New York as well as New York City.

This week, a group called the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) issued a controversial report on the quality of teacher preparation programs nationwide. Dean Biklen notes that the NCTQ report did not examine the School of Education’s undergraduate programs, which are by far its largest. Further, he said that the NCTQ assessment has significant shortcomings, and many teacher preparation programs of major universities nationally, including Syracuse, are rated adequate (two stars) rather than with four stars, although particular elements of the Syracuse programs received the highest ratings.

Syracuse University agreed to participate in the NCTQ study, but then was disappointed with NCTQ’s lack of follow-through. Dean Biklen was astonished that the NCTQ apparently scored programs based on their reading of course syllabi, and did not conduct a more in-depth study, such as evaluating student performance in the field.

“We value accurate assessments of our programs,” Biklen says. “We are very concerned, however, that the NCTQ missed core elements of our programs, including, for example, one of our deepest strengths, attention to teaching students how to construct and adapt lessons for students with disabilities.”

Biklen notes that the problem might have been in how NCTQ reads course syllabi. He notes that in future years, Syracuse and other universities will likely write their course syllabi so that NCTQ and other external evaluators will more easily see the kinds of content they want to assess.

“We are confident that at Syracuse the content exists in the courses but may not be highlighted in a way that the NCTQ evaluators could easily see it,” he says.

Unfortunately, NCTQ never directly contacted Syracuse University for program materials for 90 percent of its programs and NCTQ did not interview Syracuse faculty concerning either of the programs it did rate.

Prior to admission, Syracuse graduate programs require students to demonstrate that they possess the content background necessary for the areas of teaching in which they seek training. NCTQ critiqued Syracuse for not providing common core content at the graduate level, although as a matter of policy, Syracuse admits only students who have completed undergraduate degrees in the subject areas for which they seek teacher training, (e.g., in mathematics, physics, chemistry). If a student lacks this background, New York State requires that they take undergraduate courses in these areas before completing their education methods courses. Syracuse students receive training in how to teach subject content by completing courses in education methods and student teaching. NCTQ gave Syracuse top marks in these areas.

NCTQ critiques Syracuse University’s teacher preparation programs for not requiring particular entrance assessments; in fact, faculty committees make detailed assessments of students’ applications, focusing especially on their subject area grades in undergraduate studies.

In secondary education NCTQ gives Syracuse highest marks for classroom management, student teaching and secondary methods. In elementary teaching, NCTQ gives Syracuse high marks in early reading and lesson planning and highest marks in student teaching and classroom management. In both the secondary and elementary grad programs, NCTQ does not recognize any Common Core content preparation. However, the Common Core is just this year being introduced in New York State schools and Syracuse faculty are directly involved in these efforts.

“The overall problem with the NCTQ approach is that it failed to get key information, but then graded down universities and colleges on the basis of partial information,” Biklen says.

In an earlier assessment of graduate schools of education, U.S. News & World Report ranked Syracuse in the top 15 among private higher education institutions.

The School of Education’s undergraduate and graduate teaching programs enjoy national accreditation by NCATE/CAEP (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education /Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation), the largest such accrediting body in the United States. In a survey conducted by the school, 95 percent of recent graduates were employed or attending graduate school within six months of graduating from the Syracuse teacher preparation programs.