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No Alabama universities agree to be in study of teacher education programs

Susan Notes:

It is very good news that someone in education can say "No!"

Of course the people who commented on the newspaper site were quick to blame the union. they didn't need to read the article: If it's about education, then the union must be doing something wrong.

As noted in the article, a lot of researchers raise questions about NCTQ research methods. Apparently their funders, which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, and the
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, are satisfied.

John Thompson Comment at National Education Policy Center: The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), is a Gates-funded organization dedicated to data-driven, market-oriented "reform." It sees itself as a part of a coalition for "a better orchestrated agenda" for accountability, choice, and using test scores to drive the evaluation of teachers. Its forte is publishing non-peer reviewed opinion pieces under the guise of "policy analysis." . . . Continue reading John Thompson Comment.

By Hannah Wolfson

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- No Alabama universities have agreed to participate in a national study of the quality of teacher education programs and several, including UAB, UAH, the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo, have chosen to opt out.

The University of Mobile even sent a letter to the organizers threatening to take legal action if it fares badly in the ratings, which are scheduled to be published in U.S. News & World Report next fall.

"In the event the University is given a poor rank, disparaged, or otherwise painted in a false or misleading light in your publication because of the University's refusal to participate in the survey, because of the NCTQ's methodology, or for some other reason, the University will seek all civil remedies available to it," attorney Casey Pipes wrote in a letter to U.S. News & World Report Editor Brian Kelly.

National Council on Teacher Quality responds

Officials with the National Council on Teacher Quality, which is collecting the data and producing the ratings, say the schools aren't being transparent with their data and fear being evaluated. But the organization's methodology has also come under fire from the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions, the heads of many large university systems, and the Alabama Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

"The research design proposed by NCTQ to evaluate and rank (teacher preparation programs) does not meet standard protocols of quality research, and thus poses an unsubstantiated threat to the reputation of (teacher preparation programs) in the state of Alabama," the ACTE said in a position statement.

The NCTQ -- a Washington-based policy group that focuses on teacher effectiveness and calls itself an alternative to teacher organizations -- started collecting data in February for the report, which it says will be the first national ranking of teacher preparation schools. It asked Alabama schools to reply by Sept. 29; because none responded positively, the organization is trying to gather data through open records requests, which it submitted this month to 13 Alabama colleges and universities.

Arthur McKee, who is directing the study, said the response nationwide has ranged from silence to rejection. He said the schools aren't used to being scrutinized publicly and should be more open.

"We're not claiming that we have everything perfect by any means," he said. "It's like anything else; things get published and then they get critiqued. To say we don't want to participate or we don't want to provide information about a very important public function because we don't like the methodology ahead of time seems preemptory."

McKee said the report, which will focus on undergraduate teacher programs, will be based on 18 standards. Where available, it will look at data such as test results of teachers from a given university, though he said few states gather that information.

And though most teacher education programs go through state or national accreditation, he said those processes are often conducted away from public view, and there's no clear link between accreditation and teacher quality.

"We're very critical. We think we have a reason to be," he said. "But we actually are trying to strengthen the preparation of teachers."

[To see a list of the Alabama schools who were sent requests click here.]

Some in education policy have supported the study, including the head of the Iowa Department of Education. But others have blasted it, including the Georgia Board of Regents, the head of the University of Florida System and, in a joint letter, the chancellors of the California, Maryland and New York state university systems.

"Their whole purpose, based on the context of what they've done in the past, appears to be destroying the preparation of teachers through colleges of education," said Jim McClean, dean of the University of Alabama College of Education, which refused to participate.

McClean said UA's lawyers are reviewing the NCTQ's public records requests; he said the few education schools he knows of that are participating, including two in the Southeastern Conference, are doing so only because they've been required to by state laws or administrative demands.

McClean cited previous studies the group did that came to "various erroneous conclusions." Specifically, he said the new study won't look at how well graduates do, and instead researchers have requested specific course materials such as syllabi.

"Our conclusion is they're not looking to do a fair evaluation of our teacher education program," he said.

Along with the three University of Alabama campuses, Jacksonville State University, the University of Montevallo, the University of North Alabama and the University of West Alabama have also said they would not cooperate voluntarily, according to NCTQ. The University of Mobile asked to be left out or listed as not participating, according to spokeswoman Kathy Dean.

McKee said schools that don't provide information -- especially private colleges that aren't bound by public records requests -- will still be included in an "estimated ratings."

"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," McKee said. "I'll tell you this: Our reputation is very precious to us. And everything is going to be in public."ÃÂ

— Hannah Wolfson
Birmingham News



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