Transparency and Teacher Education Programs

I am a firm believer in the public’s right to know nearly everything about government-funded institutions unless there is a clear and compelling reason for privacy. For that reason, I have been following the University of Wisconsin System’s fight against the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a group seeking to make information on the standards of teacher education programs public. In conjunction with U.S. News and World Report, NCTQ is compiling course syllabi, textbooks, student handbooks, and other information to rate education schools based on whether they are adequately preparing future K-12 teachers for their professions.

This review process has been objected to by many public colleges and universities (the full list is here) on the grounds that the proposed methodology is inadequate for rating colleges. (Yet these same colleges boast about their U.S. News rankings in other aspects, although the rankings are just as flawed.)The University of Wisconsin System has long refused to cooperate with NCTQ on this, as evidenced by their March 2011 letter to NCTQ.

Yet the UW System and many other public universities are failing the public trust by refusing to make important information produced by public employees available at a reasonable cost. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a Milwaukee-based public interest law firm, sued the UW System last January on behalf of NCTQ to get the records turned over. WILL’s suit was ultimately successful in obtaining its objective, as the UW System agreed to turn over the relevant materials and pay WILL nearly $10,000 in damages and fees after obtaining additional privacy assurances.

Wisconsin taxpayers and students will foot the bill for the UW System’s initial refusal to make information public under open records laws. This is a big PR mistake for Wisconsin higher education, as it gives the appearance that universities think they are above accountability—this isn’t a good thing in the current political climate, to say the least.

Now on to the meat of the new rankings, which should come out sometime this year. There are 17 standards which will be a part of the rankings, centered on four areas:

(1)    Selectivity of teacher education programs and students’ incoming academic characteristics

(2)    Teacher knowledge of subject matter

(3)    Classroom management and student teaching skills

(4)    Outcomes of graduates’ future classes on state tests

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m not a fan of the selectivity criterion. If a college does a good job of training teachers, who cares about their ACT score? But the other three measures are certainly important; the question is whether the available data will be sufficient to accurately rate programs and provide stakeholders with useful information.

I expect a big fuss when these ratings are released, just like there is a big fuss whenever the U.S. News undergraduate rankings are released every fall. While I’m concerned about the ability to draw conclusions from available data, these ratings will provide information about whether institutions are collecting relevant types of data (such as their graduates’ outcomes) and certainly won’t be any worse than the peer rating part of the undergraduate rankings that has existed for nearly three decades.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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