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Response to the NCTQ Teacher Education Report

 | Jul 02, 2013

P. David Pearson Virginia Goatley
P. David Pearson, University of California, Berkeley
Virginia Goatley, University of Albany
July 2, 2013


Note: This document was authored by P. David Pearson and Virginia Goatley, with contributions from Karen Wixson, Peter Afflerbach, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Catherine Snow, and William Teale.


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The June 17 release of the National Council for Teacher Quality report on the state of teacher education in the United States, dubbed Teacher Prep Review, has prompted numerous responses from the educational research and policy community. Most of the responses focus on the numerous flaws in the methodology used to collect and analyze evidence about the quality of the more than 1100 teacher education programs the NCTQ tried to evaluate (AACTE, 2013; NCTE, 2013; Darling-Hammond, 2013).

These responses, coupled with the telling limitations acknowledged in the report itself (see pages 90-92) and the early reviews of its own audit panel, raise the question why the report was released in the first place, and how it justifies its strong claims that teacher education programs across the country are lacking in quality. Thus, we affirm our endorsement of colleagues who have questioned the integrity of this report on methodological and conceptual grounds.  It should never have seen the light of day. 

But methodology is not the major point of this particular response.  Instead our purpose as a leading literacy professional organization is to look forward to what we can do as a profession, and as a nation, to improve teacher education. We believe there is a role for the NCTQ goals and perspective.  As members of both IRA and the LRP we share with NCTQ a commitment to improving teacher education through the application of high standards and rigorous evaluation. Whether we could join efforts with NCTQ on this common agenda depends upon whether NCTQ is willing to: (a) acknowledge and repair some of the shortcomings in its current approach to evaluating the quality and impact of teacher education programs, and (b) expand the set of criteria and standards that it applies to teacher education program evaluation. 

To respond to our first concern, NCTQ needs to reconsider its methodology in line with the critiques offered by our colleagues, and acknowledge the many sources of information it missed.   To respond to the second, NCTQ needs to learn more about the factors that shape effective teaching practices and, therefore, effective teacher education. 

Three questions derive from the current disconnect between the standards and methods of NCTQ and what we in literacy education know about what is effective for teacher education.  The first concerns the standards to which the research tells us we should be accountable.  The second concerns the question of who speaks for and cares about the improvement of teacher education.  The third concerns how we might create coalitions of concerned reformers to accomplish our common goals.  In the remainder of this response we analyze each of these questions before returning to the question of what we as a profession might do to improve teacher education.

Question 1:  To what standards should teacher education programs be accountable?

NCTQ uses 17 standards to evaluate teacher education programs, a number that appears to cover a range of qualities broad enough to provide a comprehensive analysis of quality. Yet, close analysis of these 17 standards reveals important gaps necessary to true understanding of the state of teacher education in the United States today.

Among the missing are:

  • Anything to do with speaking and listening.  Even the most cursory reading of the research literature on classroom and small group discussion leads one to conclude that talk about text is an essential ingredient in any class at any grade level in any discipline.
  • Anything to do with writing.  This is very problematic in the era of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which rightfully stresses the importance of students being able to write research-based accounts in which they mount credible arguments, explanations, descriptions, and narratives.
  • The special role of text in discipline-based learning.  In the era of the CCSS, text has been accorded a special, central role, especially in conducting and reporting research in the form of essays that are good arguments, explanations, and descriptions.  Why isn’t expertise with texts representing different domains and disciplines and written in different genres and registers a part of the list of key understandings?
  • DiversityAlthough diversity was on the list of NCTQ standards, it was somehow deferred to the next round.  This is a curious omission.  Have we learned nothing about the central role of diversity in education in the last 20 years such that it deserves to make it into these standards?  Have we not an inkling of the marginalization that such an omission represents?   At the secondary school level, if there are no standards for either language or diversity, what does this say about our commitment to underrepresented students and their families and histories?  What does it say about our commitment to promoting multicultural understandings and respect? What does it say about any serious attempt to address the achievement gap in the United States?
  • Forming instructional groups for specific purposes.  How one organizes a classroom and orchestrates grouping that addresses differentiation of instruction and maximizes student opportunity for learning is another indispensable knowledge base that is plainly ignored in the list.
  • Motivation and engagement that facilitates learning. How do educators go about making instructional decisions to motivate and engage learners with relevant texts in ways that lead to increased retention and graduation rates?
  • Metacognition.  How do teachers help students develop the metacognitive mindsets and tools that lead students to truly independent, successful work?

In addition, there are curiously flawed applications of the standards in the list:

  • Many of the NCTQ standards apply only to elementary school teacher preparation and some, only to secondary programs.  We are puzzled by the decisions about which programs should be accountable to which standards.  For example, quite sensibly, NCTQ applies rigorous standards of specific domain knowledge to secondary programs (e.g., physics teachers need to know physics, not general science or chemistry), but they dismiss secondary teachers from the standards for English Language Learner or Struggling Reader issues.  This makes no sense for the majority of schools across the United States.  English learners are virtually everywhere, and they are not just in elementary schools!   Struggling readers are a fact of life in secondary schools, too—and not just in English or reading classes but also in science and history classes.  So why are secondary-teaching programs not examined in relation to these two standards?  We have no idea, as most secondary teachers face both of these issues on a daily basis. 

Finally, there is the problem of standards that are too narrowly defined: 

  • The most glaring example of a standard that represents a problematically narrow construal of research is the Early Reading standard as applied to elementary credential programs.  Passing the standard can be achieved by a program if (and only if) it teaches the 5 pillars reviewed in the report of the National Reading Panel—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary (see Rickenbrode & Walsh, 2013).  The LRP recognizes the wisdom of ensuring that these five topics are adequately covered in courses for future teachers.  However, the LRP also recognizes that the research base for other literacy-related topics, many in the previous bulleted list and most representing the core of the Common Core State Standards, is sufficiently strong to merit their systematic inclusion in teacher education programs also. 

    In other words, these five pillars are necessary for inclusion in an early reading teacher education program, but they are by no means sufficient. As a matter of record, it should also be noted that even the National Reading Panel did not believe that these 5 areas of instruction were the only ones that should be taught in schools or in teacher education programs, stating, “The Panel’s silence on other topics should not be interpreted as indicating that other topics have no importance or that improvement in those areas would not lead to greater reading achievement” (see NICHD, 2000, p. 1-3 of the methodology section of the NRP Report). 

Question 2:  Who cares about the improvement of teacher education?

Acknowledging the knowledge base.  Another frustrating aspect of the NCTQ report is the unstated but readily inferable assumption that until the publication of this report, no one, least of all those associated with teacher education research and development was concerned enough about the quality of teacher education to worry about its improvement.  Nowhere in the report is there acknowledgement of the work of the profession on quality control, nor is there any attempt to review the knowledge base in teacher education.

A basic principle of all scholarship, including the scholarship of evaluation, is that it is built on the work that has gone on before.  But in this report, we find no attempt to even point to, let alone summarize, what is known about the nature, quality, and reform of teacher education as a prelude to what NCTQ has to report.  To cite just a few of the overlooked resources:

  • The Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (Cochran-Smith, Feiman-Nemser, McIntyre, Demers, 2008).  Approximately every 10 years, a new handbook, consisting of rigorously vetted state of the art reviews on over 40 aspects of teacher education research, is published.  Most of the chapters specify implications for improving the practice of teacher education.
  • In 2005, AERA published Studying teacher education, a specially commissioned report, comprised of a set of nine reviews and three chapters concerning various aspects of teacher education (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005).
  • The National Academy of Education has published two books describing the knowledge base for teacher education in general (Darling-Hammond, Bransford, 2007) and for teaching reading in particular (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 2005).

Consulting public databases.  Even more surprising is the fact that the NCTQ did not avail themselves of readily available data that would have filled many of the gaps that they attributed to uncooperative and recalcitrant program personnel.  NCTQ reported that only 1% of the institutions from which they requested information fully cooperated.

However, as Darling-Hammond (2013) recently pointed out in her initial response to this report, the NCTQ reviewers failed to consult the rich body of information available from state accreditation agencies and the national organization, the Council for the Accreditation of Educational Professionals—CAEP, which conducts accreditation reviews almost 50% of the institutions providing teacher education in the country. 

Much of the data that NCTQ complained they could not get from individual programs (e.g., syllabi and course requirements/assignments) would have been available in publicly accessible state reports.  Just why they failed to take advantage of this resource is puzzling, especially since the program evaluation data are collected in such a systematic and easily retrievable manner.

Although NCTQ states that they examined the information on state accreditation agency websites, they apparently did not pay attention to all that was available.  For example, if they had attended to the website of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, they would have rated all programs high on the standard of secondary subject matter presentation because of the built-in requirement that all single subject candidates, prior to entering a teacher education program, document an undergraduate major in the subject matter for which they are seeking a credential or pass a rigorous examination of that specific subject matter. 

Also, they would have ranked all of California’s programs high on Standard 17, addressing outcomes, because all candidates in California must pass a rigorous performance-based assessment of their ability to apply their knowledge to specific teaching-learning scenarios, including an analysis of a video of their own teaching, before they can receive a credential. 

Resources in literacy.  Those of us in the field of literacy research and teacher education are particularly concerned about the failure of NCTQ to acknowledge the positive contributions of the primary professional organization to which we belong, the International Reading Association (IRA). IRA has a long history of providing leadership in teacher education, with multiple efforts in the last decade. Offering resources to teacher educators and reading professionals, these efforts use research evidence to lead the field in new directions. Here are a few examples:

IRA Standards for Reading Professionals – Revised 2010.  IRA developed the Standards for Reading Professionals as a framework for what reading professionals should know and be able to do.  There are six key standards:

  1. Foundational Knowledge,
  2. Curriculum and Instruction,
  3. Assessment and Evaluation,
  4. Diversity,
  5. Literature Environment, and
  6. Professional Learning and Leadership.

As a guide for professional practice, these standards are delineated into clear goals for a range of professionals and candidates, including:

  • PreK and elementary classroom teachers,
  • Middle/high school teachers (reading and content area),
  • Literacy specialists/coaches,
  • Administrators,
  • Teacher educators, and
  • Support personnel. 

The IRA Standards for Reading Professionals use research evidence and performance criteria to set a high standard for teacher education programs.  Extending across grade levels and teaching areas, this model requires teaching candidates to have comprehensive understandings of literacy content and how to teach that content to diverse students.

IRA Involvement with Teacher Education Accreditation.  Teacher preparation has rigorous means of establishing valid and reliable measures of evidence.  Through CAEP, the Council for the Accreditation for Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE and TEAC), the accreditation process involves extensive data collection and analysis for program improvement.  Required in some states and voluntary in others, this process (unlike the NCTQ process) includes a site visit for validation of written documents. In partnership with NCATE for over thirty years, IRA has had teams of trained reviewers who read the materials and write a report for reading specialists/literacy coaches programs seeking accreditation.  The Standards for Reading Professionals is a key component of the accreditation process. 

Position Papers and Research Reports. Based on studies by IRA’s National Commission on Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation for Reading Instruction and the Teacher Education Task Force, IRA has produced research reports and position statements to inform best practices in teacher education. The document Teaching Reading Well (2003) outlines six essential features for teacher education programs.  This synthesis suggests,

Outstanding reading education programs are grounded by content, powered by teaching, energized by apprenticeships, enriched by diversity, evaluated by assessment, and sustained by vision and good governance (p. 2).

In Prepared to Make a Difference, IRA summarizes the findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation for Reading Instruction.  This longitudinal research tracked 101 graduates of teacher education programs into their first three years of teaching, including analysis of achievement data of their students.  The results generated eight critical features for excellence in reading teacher preparation programs, showing convergence with both the Standards for Reading Professionals and the NCATE standards.

IRA Certification of Distinction for the Reading Preparation of Elementary and Secondary Teachers.  A group of reading scholars created the IRA Certificate of Distinction as a way to recognize outstanding teacher education programs in reading.  As noted in the vetting specifications:

The Certificate of Distinction recognizes only distinguished programs that consistently prepare well–qualified reading teachers who know about and use evidence-based practices.

With research as a framework for how a program is evaluated, the process requires both extensive documentation of program qualities and then a site visit by a team of reading experts.  A peer-reviewed research study by Lucina & Collins Block (2011) on teacher education programs receiving this Certificate identified 14 common programmatic features.  Highest ranking were:

  1. consistent, carefully selected, and relevant field experiences,
  2. teaching and assessing children using a wide variety of strategies and assessment instruments, and
  3. integrated, aligned, and spiraling literacy curriculum.

These programs provide multiple opportunities throughout the coursework and field experiences for students to learn literacy practices, rather than relying on one or two courses or field experiences.

Question 3:  How do we determine and pursue common goals for improvement efforts?

For candidates to be prepared as literacy teachers as noted in many of the resources available the education process is carefully planned to intertwine areas such as content knowledge of literacy foundations; rich field experiences to develop expertise; evidence-based approaches to assessment and instruction; and appreciation of the diversity present in our classrooms. This complex process is intended to help candidates move towards a professional teaching role.

The conclusion (pp. 93-94) of the NCTQ report reveals information key to understanding the stance that the NCTQ takes toward the teacher education process.  In that section, the authors make much of the distinction between teacher "training" and teacher "preparation", noting that professional teacher educators reject the training metaphor in favor of preparation.  NCTQ suggests that teacher education programs view their responsibility as exposing future teachers to the knowledge base and a range of philosophies of teaching so that each future teacher educator can develop a personal approach to teaching.  

The report critiques this approach on the grounds that it privileges personal ideology over scientific (i.e., research-based) knowledge and therefore runs the risk that teachers will deny students and their families access to the most up-to-date scientifically-validated teaching approaches. In privileging training over preparation (or the even more common metaphor of educating), NCTQ sides with generalized technical skill over situated and highly contextualized knowledge.  Implicit in this choice is the assumption that teaching is more a trade than a profession.

This view of teaching as trade is problematic on many levels. The training that NCTQ promotes enables one to repeatedly enact a routine with a high degree of fidelity; the education that we as the Literacy Research Panel value prepares one to apply knowledge flexibly and differentially to particular situations and students.  Similarity matters more in training; difference and variation, in education.  

For the trainer and the educator, an identical piece of research-based knowledge (the 5 pillars of reading from the National Reading Panel report, for example) represents a very different asset.  For the trainer, the knowledge is a recipe or routine to be enacted faithfully; for the educator, it is significant information that guides practice in concert with multiple related pieces of research-based knowledge.  This distinction helps to explain the impatience of the NCTQ with teacher education (Rickenbrode  & Walsh, 2013).  But it also suggests that the NCTQ thinks of teaching as a technical vocation rather than as a profession.  The Literacy Research Panel is unwilling to abandon the goal of increasing the professional character of teaching.  Teaching—like medicine, law, social work, or even acting—is too complex and too consequential to regard as a technical, vocational enterprise.  

The Challenge—for NCTQ and for Us

If the NCTQ and its founders are serious about improving the quality of teacher education in this country, they should reject their current strategy of trying to shame programs into compliance by subjecting their practices to an unprofessional evaluation and holding superficial records up to public ridicule.  Instead they should join those of us who have labored in the field for decades to promote improvement through research, researched-based practice, and exemplary programs.  Research on change in a wide range of institutions and social settings tells us that shame as a tactic rarely produces change of lasting value and impact.  Inviting colleagues to become part of the solution to the vexing problems and shortcomings of the field is a strategy with a much better track record.  Let’s hope that NCTQ reformers accept this challenge and invitation to be a force for good and for positive change in a profession with such a grave responsibility to our society, our parents, and, above all, our children and youth.  One can even imagine a legitimate long-term role for NCTQ in monitoring program quality on a national scale, but only if its goals, criteria, and methods are grounded in solid research, broad professional consensus, and the highest societal aims. 


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (2013). NCTQ review of nation’s education schools deceives, misinforms public.  Retrieved from:

Cochran-Smith, M., Zeichner, K. (Eds.).  (2005). Studying teacher education:  The report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education.   Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cochran-Smith, M., Feiman-Nemser, S., McIntyre, J.D., Demers, K. E. (2008).  Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts.  Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group and the Association of Teacher Educators.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2013, June 18).  Why the NCTQ teacher prep ratings are nonsense.  The Washington Post, Retrieved from

Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2007).  Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

International Reading Association (2010).  Standards for Reading Professionals – revised 2010.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

International Reading Association (2007).  Teaching reading well: A synthesis of the International Reading Association’s research on teacher preparation for reading instruction.  Retrieved from/Libraries/reports-and-standards/teaching_reading_well.pdf

International Reading Association.  Certificate of distinction for the reading preparation of elementary and secondary teachers.   Retrieved from /Resources/AwardsandGrants/distinction_intro.aspx

Lacina, J., Collins Block, C. (2011). What matters most in distinguished literacy teacher education programs.  Journal of Literacy Research, 43 (4), 319-351.

National Commission on Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation for Reading (2003).  Prepared to make a difference.  Retrieved from /Libraries/position-statements-and-resolutions/1061teacher_ed_com_summary.pdf

National Council of Teachers of English (2013, June 18). CEE chair response to NCTQ report.  Retrieved from:

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Rickenbrode, R., Walsh, K. (2013).  Lighting the way: The reading panel report ought to guide teacher preparation.  American Educator, 37 (2), 30-35.

Snow, C.E., Griffin, P., Burns, M.S. (Eds.). (2005).  Knowledge to support the teaching of reading: Preparing teachers for a changing world.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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