New teacher education evaluation system provokes criticism

Deans of education in universities and colleges across the country have called on U.S. News and World Report to reconsider its recently revised system for evaluating teacher education programs.

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality, which issues the reports, announced that it would be changing the way schools that decline to participate in its information collection process will be rated. Previously, institutions that elected not to participate were automatically labeled as "failing" to meet educational standards. Now, should a school decline to participate, U.S. News and World Report and NCTQ will gather whatever information they can and estimate a ranking.

This announcement prompted 37 educational officials to write a letter to U.S. News and World Report expressing concern with the ways in which the magazine and NCTQ conduct reviews.

On Feb. 9, two days after the initial response, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the chancellors of California State University and the University System of Maryland sent a letter to the magazine's editor expressing their concerns with the new system of evaluation.

"While we have a long and deep commitment to public accountability," the chancellors wrote in their letter, "we are writing to inform you that we have advised our Colleges and Schools of Education to delay participation in the U.S. News and World Report and … NCTQ … review of the nation's teacher preparation programs until numerous serious concerns about the methodology are addressed."

Among the main concerns addressed in the letter are a lack of transparency in the evaluation process and "a primary focus on review of inputs."

Osman Alawiye, dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education, expressed concern with the failure of the evaluation system to consider outputs like the knowledge attained by graduates.

"What they use now is mostly input factors, such as looking at the syllabi of programs," Alawiye said. "People are not sure whether that's enough to measure the quality of a program."

"The other concern also has to do with the fact that there is a lack of democracy and transparency involved in the process," he added. "How [the organizations] do that … is critical to the quality of the results that they produce."

Alawiye said that the reviews must be taken seriously because students and parents rely on them to make decisions about higher education.

"You have to treat it with the same level of seriousness and not just come up with some simple way of doing this," he said. "We have accreditation bodies that we belong to and they have standards. They work with us to determine the standards and to determine how the standards are applied."

Alawiye said that the evaluation process is complex and involves back-and-forth conversation between the evaluators of the teacher education programs and the faculty of the program itself.

"Here, [U.S. News and World Report and NCTQ] are just going to do whatever they want to determine your worth without your input," Alawiye said. "Why would a program want to participate in such a process?"

"I think you should have a process where people can respond to … the results and be able to make changes over time," he said. "This is all about trying to get better … If there's no avenue for improvement then [the evaluation process] doesn't work."

IIn response to the voiced concerns of education professionals, Robert Morse, the director of U.S. News and World Report's higher education rankings, said that the magazine is committed to continuing with the project using NCTQ's methodology and has no intentions of backing away from its plan.