TeachersTopic is a periodical feature about a subject of interest to the teaching community written by a prominent expert in the field.
Dr. Susan Neimand Discusses The National Council of Teacher Quality's Study on Teacher Preparation Programs
1) The study outlines the "most alarming findings" that resulted from the research, with admission rates into teacher preparation programs being among them. The National Council on Teacher Quality believes it is far too easy to get into prep programs, stating that just over a quarter of programs restrict admissions to students in the top half of their class. What is your opinion on the admission system?
Miami Dade College has an open door policy for admissions into the College. However, admission into our programs is determined by candidate's passing the first section of the Florida Teacher Certification Examination, which has 4 sections: Math, English, Reading, and Essay. Our program's requirements are very rigorous and those who don't do well are weeded out. Our programs have students with high GPAs and lower GPAs. Having a high GPA is not indicative of ability as a teacher, two different skill sets. In fact, many who have high GPAs would not make good teachers as they are not patient with learners who don't master concepts as quickly as they do. Further, gifted students or those who learn easily and naturally are not able to break down information to component parts to share it with others. Teacher candidates need a balance between content knowledge and pedagogy, and need passion for the profession and for learners; those candidates, irrespective of their GPAs, make the best teachers.
2) One criticism of the recent study has been its reliance on documentation, including syllabuses, student teaching manuals, and course textbooks in rating the teacher prep programs. Do you feel the study relied too heavily on documentation?
NCTQ's method of reviewing and rating programs based on documentation has been compared to evaluating a restaurant based on its menu. Without a follow up site visit to corroborate what documentation states, all is speculation.
The time gap from submission of documentation to Report release was too long: documents were sent in 2011 for a Report released in 2013. Comments were made to us concerning the fact that we did not address the Common Core State Standards: in 2011 we did not address Common Core; in 2013, we focus on it.
Additionally, it has been suggested that when institutions chose not to participate, NCTQ approached students for their syllabi and even sent "undercover cooperatives" to obtain documents. One of my colleagues has reported that students in her program came to her to ask if they would be "in trouble" if they shared documents.
Many materials received and reviewed were out of date, incorrect, and too few in number to allow for a review. No credible accrediting agency conducts an evaluation using this methodology.
3) The National Council on Teacher Quality revealed that 1.5 million students every year are now taught by first year teachers. They believe that many of these students will lose ground and fall behind in their learning due to below average teacher preparation programs and inadequate first year teachers. What is your opinion and is there cause for concern?
First year teachers can be a wonderful asset to a school, depending on their previous training. Our programs provide thousands of hours of clinical experience in multiple types of settings with different populations. When our students graduate, they are ready to teach, and most of our graduates are hired immediately. First year teachers who graduate from excellent programs bring with them the latest research-based best practices (i.e., data-driven decision-making strategies), information on current trends (i.e., use of new technologies with student with autism spectrum disorders), and new classroom methodologies (i.e., brain-based learning strategies).
By contrast, Teach for America "teachers" (they aren't teachers) are touted as "value-added" when they have none of the skills mentioned above. Their claim is their intelligence and enthusiasm. Note that TFA was not reviewed for this Report.
4) As an educator, what was your overall reaction to the study?
The purpose of the Report SHOULD HAVE BEEN to provide feedback for improvement of teacher preparation programs. However, the assessment rubrics used to grade programs are not being released so that programs can review these for program improvement, so clearly that was not its purpose. In fact, the Report made recommendations to POLICY MAKERS on how they should regulate teacher preparation programs. The "Next Steps" section discusses promotion of the Report, not support or assistance for prospective teachers.
As an educator, this strikes me as yet another effort to undermine teacher preparation programs and public education, in general. It is far more cost effective to take baccalaureate-degreed personnel and provide them with a master's in pedagogy and have them become teachers.
Unfortunately, all of this political rhetoric has omitted a focus on the student and his/her skills attainment. In the State of Florida, we are held accountable for the impact that our graduates make on student learning once in the classroom. And, in the final analysis, isn't that what really counts?
Dr. Susan Neimand, Director of the School of Education at Miami Dade College, has been a professional educator for almost 40 years. She holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and a Master's degree in Elementary Education from Florida International University. Her professional experience includes teaching every grade level from age 4 through doctoral programs, being a school principal for 20 years, teaching at Florida International and Barry Universities, and serving as an educational consultant and doctoral dissertation editor. She has written and been awarded grants to support the work of her institutions, conducted numerous workshops and presentations, and served as an evaluator for Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), and the Association of Independent Schools of Florida (AISF). Dr. Neimand sits on the Board of Directors of the Children's Trust, the Executive Board of the Florida Association of Colleges of Teachers Education, the South Florida Educational Research Committee as well as many other local, statewide, and national committees. Her areas of specialization are brain-compatible learning, interdisciplinary curriculum, and early childhood education.