Report: Teacher training in U.S. including some programs in Utah an 'industry of mediocrity'

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

"If we look at Utah specifically, all of our universities have received or are in the process of receiving national accreditation from federally authorized accrediting agencies," she said. "I think we agree with the premise that we should have effective teachers and high-quality education. I’m just not sure that we agree with the way that they're analyzing what’s happening in our education programs."

Educators fight back

Mary Burbank, director of the Urban Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Utah, said she also has concerns about the study's methodology. She gave the example of student teaching experience, which the report suggests is not required of University of Utah students, as one instance where the National Council on Teacher Quality appears to have insufficient data.

"Our students spend 400 hours in schools working with teachers," she said. "That’s one example of a misrepresentation of a program."

In the report, National Council on Teacher Quality officials note that they experienced a lack of cooperation in data collection from the country's institutions of higher education. Only 114 schools voluntarily cooperated with the review, according to the council, with the remaining institutions either declined to provide data or simply didn't respond to requests.

"We were thus forced to look for alternative ways to collect legitimate data," the report states. "As always, our chief concern was ensuring that we obtained valid data that accurately reflect the training these institutions provide teacher candidates."

Burbank said it is valuable for a school to be reviewed by outside sources, but it's important with any study or report to look beyond the data's face value. She said there are questions raised about the council's conclusions or the motivations of its stakeholders and those questions would be just as important if Utah's schools had received top ratings.

"It’s interesting to have another group’s perspectives," she said. "Certainly if you’re looking in the mirror all the time, you think you’re doing pretty well."

BYU response

Heidi Jones, a secondary education teacher who lives in North Salt Lake, said she felt prepared to enter the classroom after completing her undergraduate studies at BYU and, more recently, her graduate studies at Weber State University.

She said there's always room for improvement, particularly in preparing educators to reach out to a more diverse classroom and help English language learners. But from her experience, she said, most students leave school with a mastery of their subject area.

She also said academic training can only prepare a teacher to a certain point, as the real-world challenges of a unique classroom of students is an education in itself.

"The teacher really has to get in their own classroom and figure out a lot of things," she said. "That’s what teaching’s all about, it’s not teaching the same lesson no matter who your students are."

Richard Young, dean of BYU's McKay School of Education, was not available for an interview Tuesday but in a prepared statement said school staff would be reviewing the report to address any relevant findings.

"The evidence collected and cited by NCTQ does not capture BYU’s use of current best practices and adherence to national standards," he said.

"The BYU teacher education program has been continually accredited since 1954 by organizations that have undergone rigorous review by the U.S. Department of Education."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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