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NCTQ Slaps Down Colorado on Teacher Preparation: Will We Ever Learn?

There’s nothing to be proud about narrowly avoiding failure. It makes me nervous just to think about how Colorado still teeters on the edge when it comes to the quality of our teacher preparation. We know how important the role of the classroom instructor is for helping students learn, so the latest release of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook hardly inspired confidence.

NCTQ’s yearbook has been more or less an annual tradition in recent times. The overall project grades states comprehensively on five key areas:

  1. Delivering well-prepared teachers
  2. Expanding the pool of teachers
  3. Identifying effective teachers
  4. Retaining effective teachers
  5. Exiting effective teachers

All part of the formula to help make sure students are getting access to the highest quality instruction possible. NCTQ’s latest release focuses just on the first area. Based on policies, how well is Colorado preparing teachers to be effective in the classroom?

Unfortunately, our state walked away with the same grade it has for the past three years (and maybe more): a lousy D-minus. Now maybe you could bring home a report card with a grade like that on it and find some uncle with low expectations to wipe the sweat off his brow and issue a sigh of relief that at least you didn’t fail. But that simply isn’t cutting it. According to NCTQ, Colorado has plenty of bad company:

While NCTQ identified five states – Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas – ahead of the pack on the road to high-quality teacher preparation and licensure, many more states are going nowhere when it comes to paving the way for new K-12 teachers in their states to help students meet more ambitious college- and career-readiness standards.

While Colorado has been stuck on a poor mark for awhile, the average NCTQ teacher preparation grade has climbed from a D in 2011. to a “solid C” in 2014. So what still needs to happen in Colorado to lift us out of the D-minus grade? The report’s authors recommend the following:

  • Implement robust content knowledge tests for teachers in all areas and at all levels: elementary, middle, high school, special education, etc.
  • Include a “rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction” for elementary teachers… Hurrah!
  • Create distinct elementary and secondary certification standards for special education instructors, rather than a K-12 catch-all certification
  • Limit teacher preparation program admission to candidates in the top half of the college-going student population
  • Set some basic teacher preparation program standards “with consequences for failure to meet those standards”

It’s not that these ideas would all be terribly unpopular. As to the first item in that list, a new Third Way poll found 94% of Americans (including 86% of teachers) favor “ensuring that teachers in every state pass a rigorous test of content knowledge and teaching skills before entering the classroom.” Nearly as many people support performance-based pay and hiring / firing decisions for educators as well.

Several of the recommendations go back to last month and an NCTQ report that helped convince me to steer a more moderate course than cheering for Ed School explosions. It’s not just me. In the same poll I just cited, a 42-point majority expressed support for holding teacher training colleges accountable for the performance of their graduates!

Having high expectations for teacher prep programs helps to ensure high expectations for classroom teachers. And high teacher expectations reinforce the high expectations for students many of our schools so badly need.