Elementary teacher preparation programs showing ‘positive signs of growth’

college_classroom_300pxElementary teacher preparation programs have shown ‘positive signs of growth’ since 2014, according to a new review of 875 programs, issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

“Some programs prepare teachers whom parents would love to see in front of their child’s classroom,” the review concludes. “Too many others graduate teachers who still need substantial assistance and experience before they are truly ready for the position they now are authorized to fill. Since 2014, programs have made gains in a few key areas, but still have far to go in others.”

Compared to its previous release in 2014, the NCTQ said programs overall showed “positive signs of growth,” especially with regard to teaching reading. For example, it noted, more programs now include all five research-proven elements of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The percentage of programs that require each element individually also has increased.

The NCTQ noted “strong progress” in these areas:

  • Programs are doing a better job teaching reading instruction. Since 2006, NCTQ has focused on early reading instruction more than any other issue. Now we found the number of programs teaching research-based reading instruction is up to 39 percent, a sharp rise from 29 percent in 2014.
  • Half of all selective programs also report diverse enrollments, showing that diversity and selectivity can go hand in hand. These 113 programs are recruiting new cohorts of teacher candidates who are more racially diverse than the institution at large or the state’s teacher workforce.

NCTQ President Kate Walsh stated that, “When programs improve, the big winners are of course future teachers and the children they will one day teach, but also the programs themselves. They are showing a willingness to change to better meet the needs of public schools. Programs that adopt an evidence-based model of teacher preparation are leading the way for others to follow.”

Despite these gains, undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs still have far to go, the report said, particularly in preparing elementary teachers in mathematics. The weak preparation of teachers may help to explain the low performance of the US in the latest round of PISA testing announced this month, with 36 nations ranking higher in math. Only 13 percent of the teacher prep programs have coursework covering the essential math topics every elementary teacher is expected to teach.

The report said only one quarter of the programs (26 percent) are sufficiently selective, generally admitting only the top half of college goers. However, a number of programs are taking it upon themselves to adopt tougher standards. At institutions lacking strong admissions requirements, the number of undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs which independently require at least a 3.0 GPA for admission has increased from 44 in 2014 to 71 today.

Other areas where the report said programs can improve include:

  • Elementary Content – Only a tiny percent of programs (5 percent) require aspiring teachers to be exposed to the full breadth of content needed to teach the elementary curriculum, including literature, history, geography, and science. For the most part, programs either fail to require any courses in the content or allow candidates to select courses from a long list of electives, many bearing no connection to the content taught in elementary grades.
  • Student Teaching – Student teaching serves as a capstone experience, offering teacher candidates a chance to learn and practice under the guidance of a veteran teacher. However, only 5 percent of programs incorporate the elements of a quality student teaching experience. The vast majority of programs (around 93 percent) accept cooperating teachers suggested by a school district, without knowing much about that teacher’s effectiveness or mentoring ability.
  • Classroom Management – New teachers, in particular, find classroom management consistently challenging. But still less than half of all programs (42 percent) give candidates sufficient feedback on their classroom performance.

Another former Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, now President of the University of North Carolina system, also commented, “These findings serve as reminder to me and my colleagues in higher education that we have a tremendous obligation to our public schools and future teachers. We must and can do better.”

This Review only analyzed undergraduate programs preparing elementary school teachers. Over the next two years, NCTQ will release updated ratings for undergraduate secondary, graduate and nontraditional elementary, graduate and nontraditional secondary, and undergraduate and graduate special education programs.

Read the entire report:

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