Several  months ago, U.S. News & World Report announced that it planned to rank the nation’s schools of education and that it would do so with the assistance of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

Since then, many institutions announced that they would not collaborate. Some felt that they had already been evaluated by other accrediting institutions like NCATE or TEAC; others objected to NCTQ’s methodology. As the debate raged, NCTQ told the dissenters that they would be rated whether they agreed or not, and if they didn’t cooperate, they would get a zero. The latest information that I have seen is that the ratings will appear this fall.

To its credit, NCTQ posted on its website the letters of the college presidents and deans who refused to be rated by NCTQ. They make for interesting reading, as it is always surprising (at least to me) to see the leaders of big institutions take a stand on issues.

U.S. News defended the project, saying that it had been endorsed by leading educators. The specific endorsement to which it referred came from Chiefs for Change, the conservative state superintendents associated with former Governor Jeb Bush. This article, by the way, has good links to NCTQ’s website, describing the project and its methods. Two of the conservative Chiefs for Change are on NCTQ’s technical advisory panel.

Just this week, NCTQ released a new report about how teachers’ colleges prepare students for assessment responsibilities. The theme of this report is that “data-driven instruction” is the key to success in education. The best districts are those that are “obsessive about using data to drive instruction.” The Broad Prize is taken as the acme of academic excellence in urban education because it focuses on data, data, data. The report acknowledges that the data it prizes in this report is “data derived from student assessments–ranging from classwork practice to state tests–to improve instruction.”

Data-driven decision making is now a national priority, it says, thanks to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who required states “to improve their data systems and create high-quality assessments” if they wanted a crack at his $5 billion Race to the Top.

Unfortunately despite a massive investment in data collection by states and the federal government, the report says, teachers don’t value data enough. Reference is made to the report sponsored by Gates and Scholastic, which found that most teachers do not value the state tests. I wrote about that report here. How in the world can our nation drive instruction with data if the teachers hold data in such low regard?

The balance of the report reviews teacher training institutions by reviewing their course syllabi. The goal is to judge whether the institutions are preparing future teachers to be obsessed with data.

Now, to be candid, I am fed up with our nation’s obsession with data-driven instruction, so I don’t share the premises of the report. The authors of this report have more respect for standardized tests than I do. I fear that they are pushing data-worship and data-mania of a sort that will cause teaching to the test, narrowing of the curriculum, and other negative behaviors (like cheating). I don’t think any of this will lead to the improvement of education. It might promote higher test scores, but it will undermine genuine education. By genuine education, I refer to a love of learning, a readiness to immerse oneself in study of a subject, an engagement with ideas, a willingness to ask questions and to take risks. I don’t know how to assess the qualities I value, but I feel certain that there is no standardized, data-driven instruction that will produce what I respect.

And then there is the question that is the title of this blog: What is NCTQ?

NCTQ was created by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000. I was on the board of TBF at the time. Conservatives, and I was one, did not like teacher training institutions. We thought they were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called “Different Drummers”; this study chided professors of education because they didn’t care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.

For a time, it was not clear how this fledgling organization would make waves or if it would survive. But in late 2001, Secretary of Education Rod Paige gave NCTQ a grant of $5 million to start a national teacher certification program called the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (see p. 16 of the link). ABCTE has since become an online teacher preparation program, where someone can become a teacher for $1995.00.

Today, NCTQ is the partner of U.S. News & World Report and will rank the nation’s schools of education. It received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to review teacher quality in Los Angeles. It is now often cited as the nation’s leading authority on teacher quality issues. Its report has a star-studded technical advisory committee of corporate reform leaders like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee.

And I was there at the creation.

An hour after this blog was published, a reader told me that NCTQ was cited as one of the organizations that received funding from the Bush administration to get positive media attention for NCLB. I checked his sources, which took me to a 2005 report of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education (a link in this article leads to the Inspector General report), and he was right. This practice was suspended because the U.S. Department of Education is not allowed to expend funds for propaganda, and the grantees are required to make full disclosure of their funding. At the time, the media focused on payments to commentator Armstrong Williams. According to the investigation, NCTQ and another organization received a grant of $677,318 to promote NCLB. The product of this grant was three op-eds written by Kate Walsh, the head of NCTQ; the funding of these articles by the Department of Education was not disclosed.

Diane