FAIRBANKS — A new report on national teacher preparedness has ranked Alaska last in the country, but state and University of Alaska officials say the report’s claims are shockingly off base.
The report, released Wednesday by a private advocacy organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality, gave the state of Alaska an “F” grade for its efforts to prepare teachers to adequately educate students. The only other state to receive the lowest score possible was Montana.
Though the report placed Alaska squarely in the basement, it didn’t place the ceiling very high: The highest grade given out was a “B+” awarded to three states. The rating system and low overall grades have prompted critics of the organization to deem the rankings an unhelpful exercise in public shaming.
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, in response to NCTQ’s most recent report on university teaching programs this summer, summed up many critics’ feelings toward NCTQ.
“As might be expected from NCTQ’s past reports, this review offers largely unhelpful recommendations that are based on questionable methodology,” the response stated.
The NCTQ’s teacher preparation report focuses its rankings on a handful of key components the organization thinks every state should require to ensure teacher candidates are prepared enough to instruct students in college- and career-ready standards.
Those components include such specific suggestions as requiring students pass entry exams to major in education and requiring mentors to meet with student teachers on a weekly basis.
As part of its comments on NCTQ’s 2014 teacher preparation report, the University of Alaska system shared a formal reply it prepared in January 2013 in response to one of the group’s previous teacher preparation reports. The report expresses deep concerns with NCTQ’s methodology and its overall findings.
“The degree of inaccuracy in this report is alarming,” the university response states. “NCTQ has consistently rated the State of Alaska as deficient in Teacher Education. However, according to other universities and education organizations, the NCTQ ratings are seriously flawed.”
Allen Morotti, the dean of education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said NCTQ’s rankings should not reflect poorly on the University of Alaska. Education programs at all three state universities are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, a national accrediting body.
Dana Thomas, the vice president of academic affairs for the University of Alaska, called the council’s accreditation the “highest level of specialized accreditation status.” Only about one-quarter of the education programs in the country maintain national accreditation, according to Morotti.
Morotti said it’s important to remember NCTQ’s teacher preparation report is technically a review of state policies, not of university programs. They do a separate review of university programs. Just because the state doesn’t require practices in statute or regulation doesn’t mean the universities don’t require those practices for graduation, he said.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development defending several areas marked as deficiencies by NCTQ.
“The NCTQ reviews our written regulations, without considering what is occurring in Alaska’s approved teacher-preparation programs,” the department stated.
Sandi Jacobs, vice president and managing director of state policy for NCTQ, said if the state of Alaska felt the report’s rating wasn’t justified, it could have provided feedback.
In its response to NCTQ, the Alaska department of education checked the box stating the findings on each policy were technically accurate and did not provide any additional comments.
“They have responded, as they have each year. They told us our analysis was accurate,” Jacobs said. “We see states making all sorts of forward movement on their teacher preparation and other teacher policies, but Alaska hasn’t been a part of that progress.”
According to Morotti, the department recently brought together the deans of education programs, education faculty and other experts to review and recommend policies that could ward off some of the criticism from groups like NCTQ.
Teacher preparation programs will feature at the University of Alaska Board of Regents meeting, which is scheduled to run all day today and Friday. Thomas will present the Revised Plan for Revitalizing Teacher Education for regents.
The report includes plans to improve both rigor and selectivity of the university system’s teacher training programs, graduate 50 percent more certificated teachers, decrease teacher turnover and reduce administrative barriers.
Morotti said while he thinks NCTQ quite clearly has its own questionable agenda, the organization’s ultimate goal is probably not so different from the University of Alaska’s.
”As much as it might pain me to say this, advocacy groups like NCTQ I think want the same thing,” Morotti said. “It’s just how we go about it. I don’t think embarrassing states or embarrassing preparation programs is the most effective way to do it.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.