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Originally published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 8:13 PM

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State’s trainers of teachers criticize new national rankings

A national advocacy group released a report Tuesday that harshly criticized the nation’s higher-education teacher-preparation programs, but Washington educators called the report flawed.

Seattle Times higher-education reporter

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A national advocacy group blasted the quality of teacher-training programs — including those in Washington state — calling them “an industry of mediocrity” that turns out teachers ill-prepared for their first year in the classroom.

The deans of several Washington colleges of education agreed that the U.S. must do better. But they questioned the rankings’ reliance on course syllabi, curricula and textbooks to parse teacher-prep quality and called the analysis flawed.

The review, issued Tuesday by the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and published on the website of U.S. News & World Report, is a first-ever attempt to single out colleges and universities that do a good job of teacher training.

“We believe teacher education, as an enterprise, needs to improve,” said Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington, but he said the report is limited in its usefulness because it relies on what he described as “one big data point.”

Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the state’s Professional Educator Standards Board — which sets certification standards for Washington teachers — called the report a disappointment.

“Given their really significant funding base, they (NCTQ) could have performed a much more useful analysis,” Wallace said. “In their rush to judgment, they went with a lot of proxy indicators. What everybody’s craving is more meaningful measures.”

The Gates Foundation is among the funders of NCTQ.

In a conference call, NCTQ President Kate Walsh said the review provides a fundamental measure of the depth of preparation in teacher programs.

She said many students go on to become good teachers, despite graduating from “very inferior programs — what we’re saying about these programs is that they’re not adding value.”

Washington State University’s program was one of only 104 in the nation that made NCTQ’s honor roll for quality — earning three stars out of four.

While he was pleased by the ranking, WSU education dean Mike Trevisan said the evidence is thin that the programs cited as best or worst belong in those categories.

“This is a group that has a political agenda,” he cautioned, describing NCTQ as wanting “market forces to weed out weaker programs ... and to increase the strength of programs that meet their expectations.”

But Trevisan also said there are colleges across the country that view teacher preparation “as a means to generate enrollment and revenue.” The report might compel people to take a more serious look at teacher-preparation programs, he said.

About 78 percent of programs earned two or fewer stars, “ratings that connote, at best, mediocrity,” the report said. Most programs in Washington fell into this category.

For example, Central Washington University, which graduates about 500 new teachers a year, received 1½ stars for elementary education, and 2½ for secondary education.

CWU College of Education dean Connie Lambert criticized NCTQ’s methodology as flawed. “We were more than willing to provide them with performance data, but they stuck more with syllabi and textbooks and basically measures we haven’t used in education for 10 years,” said Lambert, who is also president of the Washington Association for Colleges of Teacher Education.

The graduate programs in secondary education at UW-Bothell and UW-Tacoma made a list of the weakest programs in the country, receiving no stars at all.

Wallace said Washington is participating in a 26-state consortium using classroom-based performance assessments to evaluate student teachers. “We are on the brink of using much deeper and more meaningful measures,” she said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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