Reflections on the NCTQ Adventure

Several weeks ago the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its national review of education schools, published in a report as ratings in U.S. News & World Report. Incorporating a “research” approach that can be characterized as relying on nothing so much as threats, demands, and intimidation, NCTQ used an inputs-based documents-review process to evaluate 2,400 programs located in 1,130 higher education institutions against various configurations of standards. Each institution was then given a rating on a 4-star scale. Curiously, the vast majority of institutions that were rated received no request from NCTQ to conduct on-site visits of campuses or local schools, or to conduct personal interviews.

In the report, NCTQ admits that it did not have sufficient data for many institutions, yet it goes on to say that only four of the nation’s education schools were deserving of four stars (< 1%), and only an additional 105 programs (9%) were given three or more stars. Further, 164 programs were assigned no stars at all and labeled with a “Consumer Alert” designation. [NCTQ reviewed and rated only our Middle/Secondary Education program, giving it a modest 2 ½ stars based on an inaccurate and incomplete review of the data that we submitted.] Despite the often erroneous, inconsistent, and incomplete application of its standards, and the fact that only 10% of institutions fully participated in the review, NCTQ concludes that the vast majority of teacher preparation programs in the nation do not give aspiring teachers an adequate return on their investment.

We have and shall always welcome new voices that offer sincere and well-intended commentary about how we may continue to improve. But when any voice is shrill and raised in an attempt to exercise power or to gain political advantage we shall be wary of its true motives. As a counter-balance to the NCTQ stir, I have posted on our college webpage an extensive description of the multiple and diverse means by which the performance of our teacher education candidates and the quality of our teacher preparation programs are assessed.

Here at JMU we maintain a steadfast commitment toward continuous improvement in the quality of our teacher and other educator preparation programs. To determine the competencies of our candidates, we rely on more consequential indices than high school ranking, GPA, and GRE score. Likewise, to ascertain the quality of our programs, we rely on much more than review of syllabi and course requirements or on how and by whom clinical assignments are made. Our main concern here at JMU is on means and criteria that are related to successful teaching and learning. First and foremost we are concerned about outcomes— evidence indicating what our candidates know, what they value as emerging professionals, how they envision themselves as professional educators, and how they are able to apply their knowledge, skills, and dispositions as effective classroom teacher-leaders.

Since our start as the Normal and Industrial School for Women in 1908, JMU has been instrumental in helping to fulfill the Commonwealth’s growing demand for high quality teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. We take great pride in upholding the founding mission of our institution, and doing so while holding ourselves accountable for meeting and exceeding the most rigorous state and national standards of professional excellence. The history of our profession is the synthesis of endless stories of countless Madison-grounded educators—unsung heroes of the classroom and champions of our profession—who stepped forward in their moment in history to bring transcendence to youth and young learners, leaving a legacy of making positive differences in the process. Prior generations of Madison alums who swelled the ranks of P-12 educators in years past transmitted by their professional commitment a tradition of unflinching advocacy that leads derivative acclaim to the work we perform today.

This legacy of excellence and of making a difference in communities throughout our country that our ancestral colleagues forged continues to this day. Our program completers are in popular demand by education administrators throughout the region, and from their employers they routinely receive high compliments for their preparedness, skill, and dedication. Each year in the Commonwealth and surrounding region, scores of Madison-prepared educators are recognized by their schools and school divisions as teachers/administrators-of-the-year. As succeeding waves of newly-minted educators from Madison enter and assume leadership roles in our nation’s classrooms and schools, their professional devotion to helping all learners excel and their determination to upholding the respect of our profession will honor the work of previous generations of our sister and brother colleagues, and set a worthy example for their successors to emulate.

Over the past several years, JMU’s professional education unit has engaged in a years-long state and national accreditation and strategic planning process that focused in large measure on the development and assessment of a vision and set of goals which our professional education unit aspires to exceed. At the heart of this important exercise in self-reflection and analysis is the conviction that our programs should resonate in a distinctly civil and humane way; that we should dedicate ourselves to advancing a compassionate concept of schooling and of society.

Among many of our sister educator preparation programs across the country unwilling involvement in the entire NCTQ political and public relations adventure has darkened outlooks and dampened spirits. We shall not allow ourselves to be similarly affected, nor shall we permit our resolve to be shaken. Instead, we shall continue to emphasize the respect that our programs enjoy, and refocus the conversation on 1.) the many ways that we excel on GENUINE measures of program and candidate quality, and 2.) the extraordinarily positive impact that our faculty, our candidates, and our alums have on P-12 learners, on schools, and on the communities in which they reside.

In our educator and leadership preparation programs here at JMU, the belief prevails that American education should concern itself with the processes of acquiring, valuing, and transferring knowledge as well as with matters of conscience—ideas and beliefs that we value most deeply that bind us with other members of the human community and with the earth that sustains us. It is devotion to these ideals which animates our work here at JMU, not pursuit of acclaim or select rankings. As I indicated in my remarks on program assessment posted on our webpage, this is our professional address: not our zip code, but our professional code; not where we reside, but where we stand.
Phil Wishon, Dean
July – 2013