The University of Nebraska-Lincoln ranks best in Nebraska for educating new elementary school teachers, according to a controversial new report that sounds an alarm about the quality of the nation's teacher preparation schools.
Overall, Nebraska's schools scored poorly in the report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
State officials challenged the methodology used to rate the schools, saying the authors reviewed course syllabuses, catalogs and other data but did not examine the quality of the students graduating from Nebraska schools.
Part of the score was based on how well schools prepared teachers to teach the Common Core standards, which Nebraska has not adopted.
In Iowa, a Common Core state, programs generally rated lackluster as well on the four-star scale. However, the University of Iowa's secondary education program received 3½ stars.
The report released Tuesday was the first of its kind by the Washington, D.C., advocacy group.
Improving teacher quality has been a steady theme of President Barack Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan.
The report concludes that the vast majority of the nation's teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers an adequate return on their investment of time and tuition.
The report rated 608 of the nation's schools on various criteria, including admissions standards, the content they teach and student teaching experiences.
Nebraska Commissioner of Education Roger Breed said Tuesday that the quality of a teacher preparation program cannot be reduced to a checklist.
“There are many, many, many other factors that have to be brought into the equation other than the things they specify,” he said.
UNL received 2½ stars for its elementary education program, the highest in the state.
Fewer than 10 percent of the rated programs nationwide received three stars or more. Only four programs, all secondary education, received four stars.
Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences, said she was pleased that the report recognized the school for its selection criteria, lesson planning, classroom management, approaches to English language learners and math.
But she said the report overlooked some of UNL's strengths,
“It's their initial effort,” Kostelnik said of the report. “I'm giving them mixed marks, just as they're giving us mixed marks.”
Among other rated Nebraska schools — not all participated in the ratings — Wayne State College's elementary education program received two stars.
The authors awarded 1½ stars to the elementary education programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Nancy Edick, dean of UNO's education college, questioned the study's methodology, saying, “It's not solid research.”
She said UNO was docked in several strong areas, including how it prepares teachers to deal with struggling readers.
Sharon Katt, administrator of adult program services for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the methodology was akin to judging a restaurant's food quality by reading the menu.
“They spent a great deal of time looking at course syllabi, course catalogs and any other printed documents that they could get their hands on,” she said.
The authors did not look at what happens in the classroom, the field experiences of the candidates or the mentoring that goes on, she said.
“I think that, by and large, got lost,” she said.
Katt disputed the report's low marks for Chadron State College, Midland University and Peru State College.
“I speak with confidence that these programs are solid programs,” she said.
Contact the writer:
|Teaching the Teachers: Report rates education schools in Nebraska, Iowa|
|Chadron State College||0||0|
|Peru State College||0||1|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln||2½||1|
|University of Nebraska at Kearney||1½||--|
|University of Nebraska at Omaha||1½||0|
|Wayne State College||2||1|
|Iowa State University||2||1½**|
|University of Iowa||2||3½ >|
|* rating out of 4 stars|
|Source: Teacher Prep Review 2013, National Council on Teacher Quality|