First, to the media – the National Council on Teacher Quality Ratings are NOT ratings of actual differences in Teacher Quality across states. They are ratings of supposed steps which can be taken in state policy in order to improve teacher quality. Here, the blame goes on the media spin, not on NCTQ.
NCTQ does make some reasonable attempts to explain the research basis for their policy elements. However, NCTQ fails miserably at understanding the importance of context within which policies are applied. For example, under AREA 2, NCTQ cites the importance of increasing numbers of teachers from more competitive colleges, and cites expanding the teacher pool as a way to accomplish this, through policies such as alternative certification. My own work a few years back on charter school hiring in states with more and less relaxed teacher certification requirements provides some support for this notion. But, my research also shows that in some cases, expanding the pool weakens, on average, the academic credentials of teachers. Some states and some regions of the country simply don’t have more competitive colleges and universities.
As many of these rating/grading systems which strongly favor deregulatory policies (and the power of state data systems) do, the NCTQ policy ratings favor those states that in fact have the weakest overall public education systems including the academically weakest teachers – of all things. NCTQ only handed out Cs and Ds for grades (and a few Fs). A quick tally based on my prior analyses of Schools and Staffing Survey Data finds that 6 of the 8 states that got a C (the high grade) fall in the bottom half of states in the percentage of teachers who attended highly or most competitive colleges (a factor acknowledged by NCTQ as important, and as a factor that would supposedly improve as a function of expanding the teacher pool). Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas are all in the bottom 10. Most of these states also fall in the bottom half of states, and 3 in the bottom 10 states for the change in percent of teachers (03-04 to 07-08) who attended highly or most competitive colleges. None of the states that received the high grade were even in the top 20 in change in % of teachers from highly or most competitive colleges.
You know – it’s possible that teacher salaries might also be a factor here (there’s some pretty good research on this-see link), and a limiting condition might actually be the available funding for schools which is sadly lacking in many of these states. So too might the supply of high quality public colleges and universities for preparing teachers. States like Louisiana have been taking the axe to their public higher education systems of late. Deregulatory strategies cannot trump these conditions, and in fact, may worsen teacher quality and ultimately school quality under these conditions.
Increased regulatory strategies like improved data for teacher evaluation systems (also advocated by NCTQ, and quite reasonably so) are simply window dressing for states that are choosing to avoid the more difficult and more expensive problems facing their public education systems.
On numerous occasions on this blog, I’ve discussed the systemic failures of the public education systems in states like Louisiana – their failure to serve even 80% of school-aged children – or their failure to provide reasonable overall funding or target any funding to higher need districts (across most of these states).
So, if the Teacher Quality Policy ratings have little to do with actual teacher academic preparation in a state, or overall quality of the state’s education system, then what do they tell us? Apparently not much!