So, nu, would it have killed you to cooperate? I mean, since you didn’t cooperate (which would have meant, far as I can tell, a not-outrageous amount of work on your part), you now have two problems: You got the lowest possible ranking on a national, high-profile, ed-school ranking; and you look as though you knew what was coming so you… didn’t cooperate.

George Washington University was among the lowest-ranked programs in the country. It received this warning from the council: “No prospective teacher candidates should entrust their preparation to these programs because candidates are unlikely to obtain much return on their investment.”

Here’s some stuff about the rankings:

Released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based advocacy group, the rankings are part of a $5 million project funded by major U.S. foundations. Education secretaries in 21 states have endorsed the report… The review was funded by 62 organizations, led by the Carnegie Corporation and the Broad Foundation. The National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed admissions standards and inspected syllabuses, textbooks and course requirements and rated 1,430 programs on a scale of zero to four stars.

What, you said we don’t have to cooperate with that fly-by-night Carnegie Corporation… ?

Isn’t the business of being in denial about how bad they are one of the big reasons many ed schools are so bad?

So now your only option is to dump on the Carnegie and the Broad and all those education secretaries… Only we know what we’re doing… They don’t know what they’re doing…

Here’s what you should have done:

The University of Michigan’s School of Education was one of the few institutions that willingly gave its materials to the National Council on Teacher Quality. “There was no particular reason not to,” said Dean Deborah Loewenberg Ball. “This is one of society’s most important topics.”

Let UD give you some advice, not that you’ll take it: Apologize for not cooperating (or at least give some reason for not having done so that doesn’t make you look dumb) and say that while you think the rating unfair, it’s one of many useful sources of criticism available to the school, and will be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, you’re going to have a bumpy pr ride for awhile, and you should be thinking in broader terms about how to manage it. One thing to do would be to publish and defend elements of your curriculum. The head of GW’s teaching program should right now (or in a few hours; it’s 4:13 AM) be preparing an opinion piece to be sent to the Washington Post which in measured terms explains and defends the school’s curriculum, admissions philosophy, etc.

UD will now check out GW’s teacher training curriculum. She’s happy to speculate about what might have set off the Council.


UPDATE: The Washington Post is scathing:

The council’s methodology was developed over eight years, relying on a review of course descriptions, syllabuses, student-teacher observation instruments and other materials. It came under immediate attack as incomplete and inaccurate from institutions of higher education. Such criticism is rich considering that many of these same institutions fought tooth and nail to keep materials from researchers. “Tremendously uncooperative” is how Kate Walsh, president of the council, described many institutions, which refused to share textbooks or course descriptions. The council had to file open-records requests; many private institutions that are not subject to Freedom of Information requirements opted out. What were they trying to hide?

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19 Responses to ““George Washington did not cooperate with the organization, leaving the reviewers to collect syllabuses and course requirements through unofficial channels.””

  1. janet gool Says:

    Hello Margaret!
    All this is pretty interesting, but what impresses me most is that you are up and blogging at 4:30 a.m.!

  2. James Says:

    Loewenberg is a darling of ed reformers so it’s no surprise she turned over Michigan’s syllabi.

    The NCTQ rankings are very suspect. Take a look at the methodology.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    James: On the methodology: I agree. The NCTQ ranking is a blunt instrument, that’s for sure. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t taking the results seriously (it’s getting enormous news coverage, as is the backlash). Nor does it mean that, broadly speaking, the scandalous portrait of American ed schools NCTQ paints is an inaccurate one.

  4. david foster Says:

    Generally speaking, if I hear about a corporate CEO having a temper tantrum because he doesn’t like the questions an analyst is asking, or doesn’t like what the analyst said in his report, I tend to put the company on my Do Not Invest list.

    I suspect the same principle is applicable here.

  5. Dr_Doctorstein Says:

    If I heard of an analyst using methods as crappy as NCTQ’s, I’d put that analyst on my Do Not Hire list. The really sad thing here is that the media is taking this report seriously.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Dr_ – Sad it may be, but the failure of ed schools to do anything meaningfully self-critical (like shut down a number of non-performing programs) leaves plenty of room for initiatives like this one. People will take the results seriously however strongly (and justifiably) defenders of ed schools fight back because people are fed up with the state of our ed schools.

  7. Alan Allport Says:

    What’s going on over there, UD? I thought GWU’s whole strategy was to game the national rankings furiously so as to inflate its reputation and justify those huge tuition bills (this is not entirely snark; part of me rather admires the cynicism of it.)

  8. Dr_Doctorstein Says:

    Yes, people will take the results seriously because it confirms their existing suspicions. But I don’t see much hope for solving the problems facing teacher education, at least not in the current dispensation. Start with the fact that there’s little agreement on the fundamentals–on issues ranging from the proper roles of federal, state, and local government to the very purposes of public education itself. Add to that the fact that teacher-ed programs are often “profit centers” for cash-strapped public institutions (just like that other rotten but popular major, business). Add to that the fact that however justified it might be to shut down bad programs, doing so will not change the dynamics of the labor market; it will not magically lure a mass of smarter students away from engineering and into teaching. The problem is so deeply rooted in so many intransigencies as to be well-nigh insoluble. It’s a wonder education in this country is as good as it is.

  9. david foster Says:

    “Add to that the fact that however justified it might be to shut down bad programs, doing so will not change the dynamics of the labor market; it will not magically lure a mass of smarter students away from engineering and into teaching”

    Maybe not a *mass* of smarter students, but perhaps *some*….surely one reason inhibiting smart and creative people from careers in teaching is the nature of the ed school curriculum.

  10. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Dr_ – I agree – the problem is staggering in its complexity. But I think one place to start at the moment would be the fact that we’re graduating far too many teachers. Cynically (the programs are profit centers, as you note) and indifferently (many schools have laughably low admissions requirements), universities have allowed their ed programs to get bigger and bigger and worse and worse. Much-reported phenomena like this latest quality ranking are what you get when a certain general rage and indignation builds up in the population.

    Shrink these programs. Withhold accreditation from the worst. Significantly tighten admissions requirements.

    DO NOT WORRY about low salaries, lack of respect, difficult working conditions, etc., barring quality applicants. Wait and see. Lots of people want to live meaningful lives; lots of people know that teaching is one of the most meaningful things you can do. Let this thing play out. Given the big surplus of teachers, you’ve got to shrink your incoming class anyway, if you want to demonstrate any moral seriousness at all. (Law schools are doing this; ed schools can do it too.) Keep in mind that tons of really smart Ivy League grads apply for positions as instructors at good private schools. These schools don’t pay very well, but they offer an opportunity to lead a meaningful life teaching.

  11. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Alan: I’ll admit to being very intrigued by GW’s ed school having been given the lowest possible ranking in this big-time ranking system. Note that the local paper of record – the Wash. Post – has strongly endorsed NCTQ’s report. I’m waiting to see whether there will be any response from GW. I have to assume GW is waiting to see whether extensive efforts to delegitimize the report will succeed.

  12. Dr_Doctorstein Says:

    Sure, though the private schools are not exactly where the problem is. When it comes to the public schools that have the most trouble finding good teachers, I think the most feasible option at this point might be to create a lot more alternative pathways to certification. This could take various forms, such as the Teach for America model or MA-plus-certification programs. The idea is to tap into that pool of smart students who majored in comp lit or international relations or whatnot and are now working as baristas. Presumably a teaching career looks a lot better to them now than it did when they were nineteen years old and choosing a major. We had an MA-plus-certification program for awhile at my own university, and it was financially self-sustaining, and IMHO was turning out better teachers than our traditional undergraduate teacher-ed program, but it was shut down by the accreditors. I don’t remember the accreditor’s rationale, but then I find the whole world of accreditation incomprehensible anyway.

  13. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Dr- – Very interesting that the MA program was shut down.

    The real problem going forward, as I see it, is that traditional ed school people (stakeholders, in the wretched jargon they tend to write instead of English) will be able to see the way the wind blows. The wind blows like this: Thousands of very smart and very motivated people would love to teach, but they don’t apply to ed schools because many ed schools are insults to one’s intelligence (quite a few aren’t, but even they have to overcome this general assumption about ed schools).

    When a confluence of factors – a decision to be much more selective; serious outside pressure on American education to improve itself; a willingness to shut down non-performing programs; an insistence on taking common core subject matter seriously (and, more broadly, to take competence in a particular academic field – math, English, history – as primary in one’s ed school training), etc., etc. – makes attending ed school more attractive to these people, they will obviously change the nature of the ed school itself. The new students will put intense pressure on these schools to change their curricula – away from courses in cultural sensitivity, leadership, and how to use laptops in class, and toward, for instance, an understanding of the common core.

    These students will point out that while it’s important for ed schools to have some courses in child and adolescent development, the schools have far too many. They will criticize the curriculum in many, many ways, and things will start to change.

    People who have a lot invested in the ed biz as it is are fully able to see all of this coming. Almost everything they do (including stonewalling and dissing this latest effort to investigate what they’re about) is a rearguard action these days, a losing effort not to lose. They will eventually lose; but they will not give up without a fight.

  14. James Says:

    Michael J. Feuer has responded:

  15. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, James. A stuffy and weak response, I think. Dull writing which made me force myself to keep reading.

    Feuer would have done better to show a little emotion rather than go The Compleat Bureaucrat route.

    The paragraph which begins by saying GW refused to cooperate with the study and ends by complaining that the study got some information about GW’s program wrong is a real stunner.

  16. gtwma Says:

    While UD’s link on “graduating too many teachers” is a reference–without any supporting data–to the same NCTQ report, there is plenty of data that questions that claim:

    BLS has most educational occupations as growing at an average rate, with overall about 75,000+ yearly openings (and that only counts teacher openings, not administrators and related fields) for 100,000 graduates per year.

    I’d do a little digging, at least, before accepting NCTQ’s claims.

    Not that I want to be in the position of defending ed schools, but…UD’s comment that education schools should do something “…like shut down a number of non-performing programs…” is naive in the extreme. The legal and regulatory barriers to such action (generally, folks frown on using your accrediting power to eliminate competition) are enormous, and the plethora of alternative routes to a teaching career make it a useless exercise to reduce entrants to the career.

    And, heck, if we were closing down departments based primarily on the lack of employment opportunities for the graduates, English departments might be first on the list, UD.

  17. Margaret Soltan Says:

    On closing (I assume you mean graduate) English departments: Most such departments have shrunk dramatically, and some have indeed closed up shop, or merged with related departments. I’m in any case making a primary distinction in this discussion between quality and viability, not marketability and viability. Both naturally play a part in these considerations, but I’d say that job prospects are much less crucial to my argument than quality. (Employment rates change all the time; more than a few ed programs have been consistently bad for decades.) And while I don’t know much about the legal and regulatory complications, if you’re asking me to accept a situation in which it’s impossible to shut down an academic program, I won’t. No one should. Go that route, and the United States goes the way of Italy’s educational establishment. Compared to most countries, we have remarkably rational, flexible institutions in this country – it’s an important factor in our success. I recognize that schools of education are among the most inflexible of our institutions (look at their response to NCTQ), but I’m not being at all naive when I anticipate that eventually even they will have to change or die. The dust-up over NCTQ is part of this story.

  18. gtwma Says:

    No, I’m not talking about graduate English programs, but undergraduate programs, where English is still one of the most popular majors, albeit one with not great job prospects. It was your comment focusing on the job prospects (“..graduating far too many teachers…” that was my point. That’s clearly a marketability issue, not a quality one.

    I would simply differ on how to shut down academic programs. I think efforts to use regulatory, legal, and accreditation approaches are not the best approach. They are too subject to arbitrary political maneuvering that favor entrenched, connected and monied interests.

    I far prefer efforts that focus on information transparency and funding methods that allow the dollars to follow the students. While I don’t think NCTQ’s effort is a great one, it’s an effort to head in the right direction by giving students information they can use. More and better information, coupled with changes in the financing system that give direct income-linked grants to students for use at any university, will do far more to shut down poor quality programs than any effort by established educational interests to shut programs down.

  19. University Diaries » From an opinion piece in the New York Times. Says:

    […] blog has for years followed the scandal of America’s schools of education. Their notorious mediocrity continues to generate alternative forms of preparation for the […]

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