Archives for category: National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)

Perhaps you read the editorial in the New York Times a few days ago, blasting teacher education programs and approving John King’s new regulations to judge them by the test scores of the students who graduate from them. The editorial cites the Gates-funded National Council on Teacher Quality’s claim that 90% of teacher education institutions stink. NCTQ, you may recall, publishes rankings of teacher education programs without ever actually visiting any of them. It just reads the catalogues and decides which are the best and which are the worst, based in part on their adherence to the Common Core and scripted reading programs.

I agree that the entry standards for teacher education programs must be higher, and I would love to see online teaching degree programs shut down. But King’s new rules don’t address entry standards or crummy online programs. Their main goal is to judge teacher education programs by the test scores of the students who studied under the graduates of the programs. They will discourage teachers from teaching in high-needs districts. They will allow the U.S. Department of Education to extend its test-crazed control into yet another sector of American education. This is federal overreach at its dumbest.

John Merrow, who knows much more than the Times’ editorial writer on education (the same person for the past 20 years or more), has a different and better informed perspective.

He writes that the problem is not teacher education but the underpaid, under-respected profession.

The federal government thinks that tighter regulation of these institutions is the answer. After all, cars that come out of an automobile plant can be monitored for quality and dependability, thus allowing judgments about the plant. Why not monitor the teachers who graduate from particular schools of education and draw conclusions about the quality of their training programs?

That’s the heart of the new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education this week: monitor the standardized test scores of students and analyze the institutions their teachers graduated from. Over time, the logic goes, we’ll discover that teachers from Teacher Tech or Acme State Teachers College generally don’t move the needle on test scores. Eventually, those institutions will lose access to federal money and be forced out of business. Problem solved!

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., announced the new regulations in Los Angeles. “As a nation, there is so much more we can do to help prepare our teachers and create a diverse educator workforce. Prospective teachers need good information to select the right program; school districts need access to the best trained professionals for every opening in every school; and preparation programs need feedback about their graduates’ experiences in schools to refine their programs (emphasis added). These regulations will help strengthen teacher preparation so that prospective teachers get off to the best start they can, and preparation programs can meet the needs of students and schools for great educators.”

Work on the regulations began five years ago and reflect former Secretary Arne Duncan’s views.

John Merrow says that the Department is trying to solve a problem by issuing regulations that will make the problem worse. Teacher churn and attrition are at extraordinary high levels. The regulations will not encourage anyone to improve teaching.

He writes:

Strengthen training, increase starting pay and improve working conditions, and teaching might attract more of the so-called ‘best and brightest,’ whereas right now it’s having trouble attracting anyone, according to the Learning Policy Institute, which reported that

“Between 2009 and 2014, the most recent years of data available, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35% reduction. This amounts to a decrease of almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009.”

Merrow writes, in the voice of wisdom, a voice that has been non-existent in Washington, D.C., for the past 15 years:

I am a firm believer in the adage, “Harder to Become, Easier to Be.” We need to raise the bar for entry into the field and at the same time make it easier for teachers to succeed. This approach will do the opposite; it will make teaching more test-centric and less rewarding.

This latest attempt to influence teaching and learning is classic School Reform stuff. It worships at the altar of test scores and grows out of an unwillingness to face the real issues in education (and in society). While it may be well-meaning, it’s misguided and, at the end of the day, harmful.

Listen up, New York Times editorial writer!

Peter Greene brings his sharp scalpel to the latest “research” by the National Council for Teacher Quality. This is the group created in 2000 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation with the purpose of bringing down teacher education. As I wrote in an earlier post, NCTQ was sustained at the outset by a $5 million grant from Secretary of Education Rod Paige, when it had not yet figured out a way to destroy traditional teacher education programs.


Now NCTQ has issued a new “report,” claiming that it knows exactly what makes for successful teaching.


Greene writes:



The National Council on Teacher Quality is one of the great mysteries of the education biz. They have no particular credentials and are truly the laziest “researchers” on the planet, but I think I may have cracked the code. Let me show you their latest piece of “research,” and then we can talk about how they really work.


Their new report– “Learning about Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs To Know” (which is a curious title– do other teachers NOT need to know these things?)– is yet another NCTQ indictment of current teacher education programs. The broad stroke of their finding is that teacher education programs are not teaching the proven strategies that work in education.


That’s the broad stroke. As always with NCTQ, the devil is in the details. After all, that sounds like a huge research undertaking. First, you would have to identify teaching strategies that are clearly and widely supported by all manner of research. Then you would have to carefully examine a whooooooole lot of teacher education programs– college visits, professor and student interviews, sit in classes, extensive study of syllabi– it would be a huge undertaking.


Or you could just flip through a bunch of educational methods textbooks.


What Every Teacher Needs To Know


First, NCTQ had to select those methods that “every new teacher needs to know.” Here’s the methodology for that piece of research-based heavy lifting:


In Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning: A Practice Guide, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, identified proven practices that promote learning for all students, regardless of grade or subject, and that are especially potent with struggling students. Six practices stand out for the research behind them. There is little debate among scholars about the effectiveness of these six strategies.


Here are a few things to know about Organizing Instruction and Study To Improve Student Learning.


It was published in September of 2007. It was produced under a USED- IES contract with Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, a policy data-analysis business. It opens with a disclaimer that includes this:


The opinions and positions expressed in this practice guide are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the opinions and positions of the Institute of Education Sciences or the U.S. Department of Education.


The IES paper does, in fact, appear to be a group of researchers checking to see how much research basis there is for seven ideas that they think will help teaching subjects “that demand a great deal of content learning, including social studies, science, and mathematics.” So, not actually “all subjects and grades” as NCTQ says. And they are based around a memory-based model of education.


More importantly, the IES paper rates the seven approaches according to strength of the research to support them. Four of the seven are rated “moderate,” two are rated “low,” and the seventh is rated “strong”.


NCTQ then peruses methods textbooks to see if they actually teach the methods identified in the 2007 paper. They also looked at course syllabi. NCTQ assumes that the 2007 represents the latest and best research. They do no research themselves. They don’t actually visit any ed schools or talk to any faculty. Based on the textbooks and course syllabi reviewed, they once again decide that teacher education is failing.


These are the great minds that publish ratings of education schools every year in US News & World Report.


Greene writes:


NCTQ depends on the reluctance of people to read past the lede. For this piece, for instance, anybody who bothered to go read the old IES paper that supposedly establishes these as “bedrock” techniques would see that the IES does no such thing. Anyone who read into the NCTQ “research” on teacher program difficulty would see it was based on reading commencement programs. The college president I spoke to was so very frustrated because anybody who walked onto her campus could see that the program NCTQ gave a low ranking was a program that did not actually exist.


But NCTQ specializes in headline research– generate an eye-catching pro-reform headline and hope that if you follow it with a bunch of words, folks will just say, “Well, there’s a lot of words there, so they must have a real research basis for what they’re saying.”


So, sixteen years later, NCTQ has fulfilled the purpose of its founding: It has become a giant wrecking ball aimed at traditional teacher education programs. What will come in their wake? Relay “Graduate” School of Education? Match “Graduate” School of Education? Places where there are no scholars, no research, just charter teachers teaching future charter teachers the tricks for raising test scores.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the National Council on Teacher Quality received a formal evaluation for the first time in its 15-year history, and, the results are “not pretty.”

Created by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute to encourage alternative routes into teaching, NCTQ labored in obscurity for several years. Then, with the rise of the corporate reform movement, NCTQ became the go-to source for journalists looking for comments about how terrible teachers and teacher education are. It also became a recipient of Gates’ funding. See its 2011 report on teacher evaluation in Los Angeles here.)

Now NCTQ issues an annual report published by U.S. News & World Report, rating the nation’s colleges of education and finding almost all of them to be substandard. Among its standards is whether the institution teaches the Common Core. It bases its ratings on course catalogues and reading lists, not on site visits. Some institutions, skeptical of NCTQ’s qualifications and motivation, have refused to cooperate or send materials.

NCTQ recently agreed to collaborate with professors at Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina to assess the quality and validity of NCTQ’s ratings of colleges of education. The bottom line: the ratings do not gauge or predict teacher quality.

The full study opens with these conclusions:

“In our analysis of NCTQ’s overall TPP ratings, we find that in one out of 42 comparisons the graduates of TPPs with higher NCTQ ratings have higher value-added scores than graduates of TPPs with lower ratings; in eight out of 30 comparisons graduates of TPPs with higher NCTQ ratings receive higher evaluation ratings than graduates of TPPs with lower NCTQ ratings. There are no significant negative associations between NCTQ’s overall TPP ratings and teacher performance. In our analysis of NCTQ’s TPP standards, out of 124 value-added comparisons, 15 of the associations are positive and significant and five are negative and significant; out of 140 teacher evaluation rating comparisons, 31 associations are positive and significant and 23 are negative and significant.

“With our data and analyses, we do not find strong relationships between the performance of TPP (teacher prep program) graduates and NCTQ’s overall program ratings or meeting NCTQ’s standards.”

What does it mean?

Gary Henry of Vanderbilt Universoty was quoted here:

“The study also examined teacher evaluations but failed to establish a strong relationship between good teacher evaluations and NCTQ standards, according to Henry.

“The conclusion was the same,” Henry said. “Higher NCTQ ratings don’t appear to lead to higher performing teachers.”

I think that means the NCTQ ratings have no value in rating institutions or their graduates.

In 2013, the National Council on Teacher Quality offered its advice on how to fix Philadelphia’s financially beleaguered public schools. Retired teacher Lisa Haver reviewed its counsel to the city. Haver is a founder of the grass-roots advocacy organization Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

In this article, Haver wrote:

“”Thank heavens,” you’re thinking. The district is so broke it’s looking for loose change in the corner of desk drawers; thousands of students and teachers whose schools will close forever in June don’t know where they’ll be in September; parents wonder whether their children will have access to a nurse or counselor, or remember what a school librarian is; Harrisburg says don’t call us – we’ll call you.

“What does the Council [NCTQ] recommend that the district do to solve these problems? Crack down on teachers who get too many sick days, don’t deserve collective-bargaining rights, are too hard to fire and waste time getting advanced degrees in their field.”

This is the same organization that recently “rated” the nation’s teacher preparation programs without going to the trouble of visiting the campuses.

Jack Hassard, professor emeritus of science education at Georgia State University, here reviews the ratings of the National Council on Teacher Quality and declares them to be “junk science.” He looks at the Georgia institutions of teacher preparation and finds that the ratings are haphazard, spotty, and inaccurate. The he gathers some of the major critiques by others and concludes that the ratings as a whole are bogus, nothing more than propaganda to undermine teacher preparation and force it into NCTQ’s political framework. He calls the NCTQ ratings an “assault on teacher preparation.”

Professor Hassard taught science education at GSU for 33 years. He notes that 21 institutions offer 269 programs for teacher preparation in Georgia. Of those 269, the NCTQ reviewed 39, not by visiting them but by reading course catalogues and syllabi, which reveal nothing about the quality of the programs. He calls the Georgia ratings “feeble and incompetent.”

The ratings were assembled, writes Hassard, by unqualified reviewers: “We analyzed the make-up of the NCTQ people, and discovered that it represents a “stacked deck.” Only 2.5% of the participants in the review were teacher educators–active professors out there doing teacher education. The NCTQ was stacked with corporate executives, foundation executives, and employees of NCTQ. It was far from representing the field of teacher education.”

He adds: “The “methods” used include sources including: syllabi (when they can get them), textbooks, catalogs, handbooks, evaluation forms. We show that the NCTQ report on teacher preparation is junk science. The method that they employed in their study avoided data from the very sources that could help uncover the nature of teacher preparation. These sources are faculty, administrators, students, and cooperating school districts and educators. Without interviewing and observing teacher preparation programs directly, and without establishing a cooperative relationship with the these institutions, the NCTQ condemns itself to false claims, outright opinions that have little bearing on the nature of teacher preparation.”

Katherine Crawford-Garrett, a literacy professor at the University of New Mexico,wrote on this blog about how the rating system used by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) affected her own ability to assign readings; her dean warned her that her syllabus might offend them. After her post appeared, it was criticized by Arthur McKee, who directed the NCTQ review of teacher preparation institutions. He ridiculed Crawford-Garrett for ignoring “the science of reading.”

This is Crawford-Garrett’s response to McKee.

Dear Dr. McKee,

I just read your response to the blog entry I posted on Diane Ravitch’s website earlier this week. I interpret your response to mean that you are, perhaps, paying attention to the onslaught of critique your organization is receiving.

I decided to reply in the interest of exposing yet another layer of inaccuracies put forth by NCTQ about the teaching of reading.

I wonder, Dr. McKee, what you are actually referring to when you mention “the science of reading”? I suspect it has something to do with the National Reading Panel (NRP) report, which was released over a decade ago, relied on an extremely limited number of studies to substantiate its claims, has been critiqued widely and led directly to the Reading First debacle during the George W. Bush administration. I have spent countless hours in kindergarten classrooms in urban Philadelphia that rely on the “scientific approach” to reading instruction recommended by the NRP. In most of these classrooms there were no children’s books but plenty of phonics workbooks featuring decodable texts. Are these children learning to decode? Maybe. They were certainly learning to sit still and be quiet and also learning that reading had no relevance to their lives. This is injustice, Mr. McKee. I have never seen a kindergarten class in a wealthy area employ this “scientific approach” to reading instruction. Not once.

I also wonder, Dr. McKee, whether you make it a point to read any of the top journals in the field of reading research including Reading Research Quarterly or the Journal of Literacy Research? Or whether you have read the policy statement issued by the Literacy Research Association that deems NCTQ’s textbook list “damaging to teachers and children”? There is a wealth of peer-reviewed research in my field, Dr. McKee. As an expert in that field, I am quite familiar with it. I suggest if you are going to continue to make pronouncements about the “best ways to teach reading” that you familiarize yourself with it as well.

Before becoming a literacy professor, I taught at an innovative, arts-focused charter school in Washington, DC. We consistently had some of the highest literacy scores in the city, and we did it all without relying on corporate, scripted programs to teach our students to read. Instead, we read real books and wrote real documents that were often sent to public officials or used in other authentic capacities. This is high-stakes accountability in the field of literacy- when reading and writing matters in the world.

Now, I know one of your primary concerns, Dr. McKee is whether I teach phonics in my reading methods class. I assure you that I do (it’s even featured quite prominently on my syllabus). Code-breaking is a fundamental aspect of learning to read. However, these skills mean very little outside a framework of meaning-making. If students don’t have a purpose for decoding a text, then why on earth would they do it?

Contrary to the claim you make on your blog, I do teach vocabulary and fluency in my classes- they just happen not to be listed as headings on my syllabus partly because it feels artificial to separate them out from other parts of the reading process.

This is the fundamental flaw in your organization, Dr. McKee. You make assumptions based on a piece of paper. You have not seen my classroom and you do not know about the opportunities and challenges we face in New Mexico or how literacy operates in a culturally and linguistically diverse community. The primary assignment in my reading class – the class NCTQ deemed “unacceptable” – requires students to study a child’s literacy practices through extensive observation, multifaceted assessments and consultation with their cooperating teachers. They then design an instructional plan to improve that child’s reading abilities. Students have reported to me time and again how helpful and generative this assignment is. But perhaps I should replace it with “quizzes” to increase the “rigor” of my class as your organization suggests.

I may not win this battle, Dr. McKee, but I’m not going to stop fighting it. I will continue to do everything I can to protest my institution’s involvement with your organization. In the meantime, please feel free to visit my classroom. I have a feeling you might learn something.


Katherine Crawford-Garrett

Ed Fuller, a professor of education policy at Pennsylvania State University, analyzes the many flaws of the NCTQ rankings of teacher education programs. His is the most thorough and devastating critique of these ratings. He strips them of any legitimacy.

Read his blog here.

Read his full critique in the Journal of Teacher Education here.

What’s wrong with the NCTQ report: says Fuller, almost everything. The methodology, the research base, the lack of evidence supporting the standards, the focus on inputs rather than performance, and much more.

Katherine Crawford-Garrett, a professor of literacy at the University of New Mexico, found out recently just how powerful the National Council on Teacher Quality is. As a professor in a university, she thought she was free to assign the books of her own choosing. that’s academic freedom, right? As she describes below, she was recently summoned to the dean’s office to hear a critique about her reading list. How dare she assign books that were not approved by NCTQ? When I read her account, I was reminded of a speech I gave last spring to the AACTE (American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education). I described the NCTQ ranking system, in which the scores of teacher-preparation institutions were based on a review of course catalogues and reading lists. The highest rankings went to the institutions that taught phonics and that had courses to prepare teachers for the Common Core. I advised those present tat they should review their course catalogues and insert those two phrases generously throughout their offerings: “Common Core” and “phonics.” Voila! Their rankings will automatically rise.

Professor Crawford-Garrett writes:

“Last year, I published a book about Teach for America corps members attempting to work for social change in the midst of an autocratic school reform environment. A primary theme of the book concerns the ways in which these young teachers, widely recruited for the intellectual and problem-solving capacities, were subsequently treated as automatons required to read scripts, enforce draconian disciplinary systems and deliver instruction without ever questioning whether it was working and, if so, for whom. I sympathized with these tensions but my role as an instructor at a prestigious university precluded me from experiencing any true sense of empathy. From my privileged position in higher education, I could plan engaging curriculum, select texts that I found salient and compelling and pose questions or suggest inquiries that pushed students’ understandings in new directions.

“I was immune. I was protected. In the world of public schooling, academia seemed the last stronghold of creativity and freedom.

“On a recent afternoon, I was summoned to the dean’s office of my college (situated within a large public university in the Southwest) and asked to account for a reading syllabus I had created. Our university is in the midst of being evaluated by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the highly suspect political organization widely known for having an agenda aimed at dismantling colleges of education nationwide.

My syllabus was deemed unacceptable for a number of reasons. 1) I did not explicitly mention the words “fluency” or “vocabulary” 2) I did not have my students take a final exam and 3) I did not use a textbook listed on the NCTQ “approved” book list. During the meeting I was told to “fix” my syllabus and to add one of the textbooks NCTQ deems appropriate. These books have titles like “Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties” and “Teaching Struggling and At-Risk Readers: A Direct Instruction Approach” which suggest that teaching someone to read is simply a matter of “remediating” her/his deficiencies with neutral, skills-based instruction. Not surprisingly, this mirrors the approach to reading instruction currently at place in schools across the U.S., which remains highly unsuccessful in producing literate students capable of participating in a democratic society.

“None of the books on diversity, social justice or even writing instruction were marked as relevant. Nor were any of the books written by the most prominent scholars in the field of literacy including Peter Johnston, Richard Allington or JoBeth Allen. The book I currently use in my course entitled “Reading to Live: Teaching Reading for Today’s World” by Lorraine Wilson is listed as “not acceptable” even as a supplemental text. And while it provides a useful framework for thinking about literacy instruction, countless instructional strategies for early reading, and a focus on making-meaning, I may have to remove it from syllabus in order to receive “points” from NCTQ.

“This is what teaching and teacher education is becoming: a system that demands compliance and obedience at the expense of rigor and creativity. Unfortunately, my college has not followed other public institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the University of Indiana in taking a stand against NCTQ’s sham of an evaluation. In fact, when a colleague of mine attempted to initiate a discussion about our college’s willing participation with NCTQ, she was censured for using our faculty listserv inappropriately and informed that we could use it only to communicate about logistics.

“What logistics could be more critical than the fate of our college?

“In attempting to be a truly reflective practitioner open to considering alternative perspectives, I dedicated some time to exploring NCTQ’s website and, in particular, the sample reading syllabi posted as “exemplars.” One of the examples, which came from Gordon College, focused entirely on phonics and phonemic awareness, provided no framework for defining literacy, did not touch on issues of diversity and did not include any engagement with children’s literature. These are the kinds of approaches to teacher education that reduce teaching to a technical skill and undermine autonomy and professionalism. Moreover, while NCTQ docked my syllabus for not mentioning vocabulary or fluency (which affected the score of our entire institution), their sample syllabus did not mention these terms either.

“While I would never claim to be a perfect instructor, I am a professional with nearly 10 years of experience teaching literacy to students in Boston and Washington, DC. The majority of students in my 4th and 5th grade classroom struggled with some aspect of reading. Many had been identified as needing special education services. About half of my students were English Language Learners and recent immigrants fleeing civil unrest in places like El Salvador and Sierra Leone. Some of my students were non-readers when they arrived in my classroom, having aptly “faked” it through other grades. Others hated to read and saw no use value for their lives. Through meaningful instruction on compelling topics relevant to my lived experiences like the legacy of the civil rights Movement in Washington, DC and the types of pollution affecting our local watershed, every student in my class made significant gains in reading. Moreover, every year our classroom became a community of readers. I watched students share books, discuss literature in sophisticated and nuanced ways, and request to stay in for recess to savor the last few pages of a favorite novel.

“Since finishing my doctoral degree in literacy, I have taught reading and writing methods courses at three institutions. Interestingly, most of my undergraduate students came of age during No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and many of them admit to hating reading (or at the very least, tolerating it), even as they prepare to become teachers. Many do not consider themselves to be capable readers. Thus, part of my course inevitably hinges upon showing them that reading instruction can be substantially different than what they experienced as students. Thus, children’s literature figures prominently into my instruction as does authentic inquiry, curriculum planning and other experiences aimed at revealing the relevance of literacy to our daily lives.
My students are often surprised when we begin my course reading an excerpt by Paulo Freire (NCTQ didn’t even bother to include his book on their list). They expect a course, perhaps, that conceives of literacy as a “thing” that can be neutrally passed from one person to another. But by the end of the semester, they get it: Literacy is contextual, cultural and political. It has everything to do with power. If it didn’t, NCTQ wouldn’t bother creating a list of what we can and cannot read.

“These are dark times indeed.”

With the release of the NCTQ ratings of teacher preparation programs, this is a propitious time to review its origins.

It was created by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. It floundered, then was rescued by a grant of $5 million from Secretary of Education Rod Paige in the early days of the Bush administration. It is not a research organization. It is an advocacy organization.

Its judgments about Ed schools rely heavily on course catalogues and reading lists, not site visits. Its criteria for success include evidence of teaching phonics and preparing to teach the Common Core. If Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones are preparing to teach in a state that did not adopt the Common Core, why should they be prepared to teach it?

When I spoke to the AACTE (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education), I advised them to insert the words “Common Core” and “phonics” liberally in their catalogues. The key to higher ratings.

Mercedes Schneider wants to give you a heads-up about the NCTQ scorecard, and she does it here.

Learn about the organization and its board in this post.

As she concludes:

“NCTQ remains a well-funded, well-advertised, corporate-reform-promoting facade. Its bogus teacher training program ratings will appear in Mortimer Zuckerman’s US News and World Report, complete with search engine headed with this statement:

“Becoming a successful teacher requires good training.

“The height of hypocrisy for an organization replete with TFA influence.”