'Teacher training' report is key to better schools

David J. Chard, dean of SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, talks about the recent report on Texas schools from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

This week, all Texas colleges and schools of education received a report card on how well they are preparing teachers from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization.

With the belief that every child deserves an effective teacher, NCTQ conducts studies of undergraduate education schools at the national and state levels. It has developed excellent standards over the past five years with help from teaching experts in specific content areas.

The latest report focuses on Texas. This study is NCTQ's most comprehensive state-level review so far. It primarily examines the design of each teacher training program, applying 25 standards to 67 undergraduate elementary, secondary and special education programs.

So what is NCTQ measuring? Just about everything – admission policies; the preparation of elementary school candidates to teach math and reading, and middle- and high-school candidates their subject areas; the ways a school assesses its graduates' performance; and exit exam performance, to name just a few.

Getting news that your academic program needs to improve isn't always easy to hear. Many universities will dismiss the review and rely instead on the state's requirements for certification. However, the NCTQ standards exceed state regulations, calling for much more, including:

  • High admission standards.
  • Preparation to understand the cultures in which teachers will be teaching.
  • Training on evidence-based instructional approaches.
  • An evaluation of the program's effectiveness by examining graduates' impact on their students' achievement.

The report's aim is to assess whether the fundamentals are in place to produce the best possible beginning teachers. NCTQ doesn't engage in classroom observations; its experts spend hours sifting through documentary evidence – syllabi, reading packets, course descriptions and requirements, textbooks, etc. – to determine whether the education content meets NCTQ standards.

Here's an example of what the council looks for, one that actually aligns with state regulations. More than a decade ago, Texas mandated instruction in the science of reading in teacher preparation programs. That means devoting time to each of the five essential components of reading: phonemic awareness, fluency, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension.

Many schools and colleges of education in Texas still don't provide sufficient preparation to effectively meet children's reading needs. In fact, NCTQ found that only one in every four programs is comprehensively teaching the science of reading. SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development happens to be one of them.

We are one of just a few schools to receive the "strong overall design" label by NCTQ. But no program is perfect, including ours. My interest in this report is to identify ways we can improve. For example, the review notes that we are not providing enough mathematics content. As a result, we are collaborating with SMU's mathematics department to enhance the content requirements for our elementary school educators.

Increasingly, public schools are being held accountable for their students' achievement. However, it wouldn't be reasonable to hold teachers and school leaders accountable if they are not adequately prepared to help their students meet our education standards. I see NCTQ's review as another way of facilitating transparency so that schools and colleges of education, which play a large role in preparing future teachers, can also be held accountable while continuing to improve.

It is this openness to review that will help us hold the public's trust; our communities are counting on us. If we need to exceed the state requirements in preparing excellent teachers for Texas' schoolchildren, then that is what we should do.