The Glaring Hypocrisy of the NCTQ Teacher Prep Institution Ratings

I’ve already written about this topic in the past.

But, given that NCTQ has just come out with their really, really big new ratings of teacher preparation institutions… with their primary objective of declaring teacher prep by traditional colleges and universities in the U.S. a massive failure, I figured I should once again revisit why the NCTQ ratings are, in general, methodologically inept & vacuous and more specifically wholly inconsistent with NCTQ’s own primary emphasis that teacher quality and qualifications matter perhaps more than anything else in schools and classrooms.

The debate among scholars and practitioners in education as to whether a good teacher is more important than a good curriculum, or vice versa, is never-ending. Most of us who are engaged in this debate lean one way or the other. Disclosure – I lean in favor of the “good teacher” perspective.  Those with labor economics background or interests tend to lean toward the good teacher importance, and perhaps those with more traditional “education” training lean toward the importance of curriculum.  I’m grossly oversimplifying here (perhaps opening a can of worms that need not be opened). Clearly, both matter.

I would argue that NCTQ has historically leaned toward the idea that the “good teacher” trumps all – but for their apparent newly acquired love of the Common Core Standards.

Now here’s the thing – if the content area expertise of elementary and secondary classroom teachers and the selectivity and rigor of their preparation matters most of all – how is it that at the college and university level, faculty substantive expertise (including involvement in rigorous research pertaining to the learning sciences, and specifically pertaining to content areas) is completely irrelevant to the quality of institutions that prepare teachers? That just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s a snapshot of the data collection framework used by NCTQ to rate teacher preparation institutions:


Seemingly most important of all is whether the teacher preparation institution teaches teachers how to teach/adopt the Common Core Standards.  The vast majority of this information seems to be derived from documents such as syllabi and course catalogs.  In fact, the majority of items in this framework are about curriculum as represented in whatever documents they decided to/were able to collect and how they then chose to interpret those documents.


Culling key words in syllabi and catalogs is no way to determine the quality of teacher preparation institutions any more than one can evaluate the quality of a high school by looking at the list of graduation requirements and courses offered (theoretically offered by their existence in a course catalog).

Heads up for future NCTQ reports – nor is it particularly useful to try to rank teacher preparation institutions by the test scores of students of their graduates.

Yeah… it’s relatively convenient. Yeah… it allows NCTQ to subjectively tweak their ratings for their own political purposes.  It’s not only a largely pointless endeavor, but one that runs in complete contrast with what NCTQ claims is of central importance to improving the quality of our supposedly dreadful teacher preparation pipeline. It’s certainly easy enough to game this goofy methodology if we wanted to bother inserting common core “here” everywhere that NCTQ’s minimally trained minions might search.

There are numerous issues regarding teacher preparation that legitimately require our attention. I’ve pointed out previously that credential production for teachers is adrift.

I’ve pointed out in research a number of years back that ed schools are actually in an awkward position when it comes to recruiting faculty and building a team of faculty that bring to the table the diverse set of skills and expertise needed to provide teachers with balanced, rigorous preparation.  The faculty pipeline for teacher preparation is bifurcated between research and practice orientations and many preparation programs are imbalanced in one direction or the other, with the standards of their institutions shaping their preferences and practices in ways that don’t always support better teacher preparation.

These are complex issues that my colleagues and I at the University of Kansas (back in 2005) and many others have addressed and continue to address. They need real attention.

The new NCTQ report offers minimal guidance and a whole lot of misguided hype.

Related Articles

Wolf-Wendel, L, Baker, B.D., Twombly, S., Tollefson, N., & Mahlios, M.  (2006) Who’s Teaching the Teachers? Evidence from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty and Survey of Earned Doctorates.  American Journal of Education 112 (2) 273-300

Baker, B.D., Wolf-Wendel, L.E., Twombly, S.B. (2007) Exploring the Faculty Pipeline in Educational
Administration: Evidence from the Survey of Earned Doctorates 1990 to 2000. Educational
Administration Quarterly 43 (2) 189-220


24 thoughts on “The Glaring Hypocrisy of the NCTQ Teacher Prep Institution Ratings

  1. The NCTQ document is an insult to the bottom of bird cages everywhere. It’s methodology would have us believe that the best way to review a restaurant is to just look at the menu online and never actually go to the restaurant and taste the food.

  2. What I find interesting is that NCTQ would not accept our revised syllabi (we recently did a complete overhaul of our Elementary program). So, they ranked us based on a program that no longer exists, and a program with syllabi that were developed before we had enough information about the Common Core to know how to infuse it in our coursework…

  3. Bruce,

    “INCLUDING RESEARCH CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SCIENCE OF TEACHING AND LEARNING”. I’m not sure that the teaching and learning process are amenable to being “scientized”. It really is the same beef I have with calling social studies social sciences. Although there is a veneer of scientific method applied in the “social sciences” it can never be like a hard science. I believe that you have already pointed that out for the economic realm. As it is not only is a there a battle of curriculum vs teacher as mentioned above, but also of the art vs the “science” in the analyzation and description of the teaching and learning process.

    A small beef it is with what is a good rebuttal to NCTQ but to leave out the concept of the art of the teaching and learning process serves to limit the dialogue.


    1. I agree w/your “science” vs. art point. My reference was partly intended to be an additional jab at NCTQ, since their previous reports evaluated whether ed schools taught the “science” of reading. Following up with that point, great artists, musicians, etc. tend to have influential mentors – highly skilled and creative professionals influencing their technique & shaping their views/thinking along their paths of personal/professional development. the importance of those mentors & quality of their coaching, derived significantly from their own artistry, is undeniable. Thus, any rating system that ignores the skill/quality/artistry of the mentors (teacher prep faculty & cooperating teachers) really isn’t very helpful is it?

      1. Can you clarify your criticism of the use of science in teacher preparation? I don’t want to misinterpret, but it sounds to me like you’re agreeing with someone who has a blanket objection to social science based on what may be some misconceptions about what science is and the methods of science are.

        Some disciplines in the social sciences are very aware of the difference between studying human activity and institutions vs. what natural sciences study. A more pertinent point to is how such science can be rigorous, and that should be understood by becoming a student of the methods of analysis that these sciences rely on, their theories, and what claims they make as a result of their research. I don’t think it is responsible to dismiss social science research so flippantly.

        I, too, object to scientism and reductionism. But good research in education has more than a veneer of science. It is science.

      2. It is indeed the reductionist perspective with which I disagree. I also agree that there is an issue of the “art” of teaching that is not addressed here all, and that whether we look at the “art” or “science” side of the puzzle of teacher preparation, the quality, expertise and qualifications of the mentor/faculty members, etc. matters. I’m personally a social science, big data geek, whose prior background is in molecular biology (undergrad degree & brief lab experience). I see the macro level social science work I do as very distinct from natural sciences (more comparable to epidemiological research). I am increasingly critical of my own fields of inquiry, mostly because too many of us try to make too much of the data, their meaning, causal inference, etc. For example: or

      3. Thanks for the clarification. I failed to mention before that I appreciate the commentary in this post. We don’t see enough of what is underlying these analyses, though we see a lot of interpretation. So thank you for that as well.

      4. James,
        I wouldn’t say I have a “blanket objection” to social sciences. I just would like to see more “caveats” built into the limitations of said sciences and the resulting conclusions drawn. To me one of the advantages of science over other belief systems is that it is meant to be self-correcting. And that that self-correction (not necessarily by an individual but by all involved in the particular area of concern) is seen, rightly so, as a good and necessary part of the study.

    2. Hi Duane,

      You expressed worthy sentiments about caveats and self correction. My opinion is that meaningful distinctions between good and bad science help us achieve these and other goals of good science.

  4. In the rush to have “data-driven” schools, we ignore the need to include qualitative data as well as quantitative data. No one hires our students “JUST” because they can do a fill in the blank test, but it seems everyone wants to evaluate schools in that fashion.

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