Improving the strength of content preparation in all subject areas teacher candidates will be licensed to teach could lead to stronger teacher preparation programs, especially when it comes to science and social studies, according to new research.

Although a new analysis of the top undergraduate teacher prep programs revealed no common characteristics, lower-ranked programs tend to suffer from relatively weak content preparation provided to science and social studies teacher candidates.

The data comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) latest ratings for 717 undergraduate programs that prepare high school teachers.

The teacher prep programs in the “Top Tier” have solid admission standards, provide sufficient preparation in each candidate’s intended subject area, and show them how best to teach that subject. Many also do well in teaching how to manage a classroom and provide plenty of high quality practice opportunities.

“These are programs that understand their most important job is to deliver well prepared teachers to classrooms,” commented Kate Walsh, President of NCTQ. “That means paying a lot of attention to the nuts and bolts of what it takes to become an effective teacher.”

The analysis found that a common problem for many of the other 700+ programs is the relatively weak content preparation provided to science and social studies teacher candidates, compared to the almost uniformly strong preparation in English and mathematics content in the same institutions.

Close to half of programs (43 percent) struggle to prepare both science and social studies teachers to teach the subject’s content. For example, even though history is the subject most social studies teachers will be assigned to teach, one out of five programs requires minimal to no history courses of their candidates. To see how programs in each state perform on their coverage of science go here, and for social studies go here.

“Looking at program performance across the board, our big takeaway is that the preparation of high school teachers is a big leaky bucket,” Walsh said. “Much of what we continue to find in all of our ratings work reflects the relative anarchy in the field of teacher preparation, where every institution independently decides what it means to prepare a teacher well, whether or not it is what public schools need or where the evidence points. That lack of coherence and a professional governance is without parallel in other fields of professional preparation.”

Other key findings
• A quarter of all teacher prep programs do not offer a course in the best ways to teach a specific subject. Only 42 percent of teacher prep programs succeed at teaching future teachers both the content and teaching methods for their subject.
• There are early signs of some teacher prep programs becoming more selective in their admissions, but it is still the case that 44 percent of programs set the bar too low for who gets into their programs. Of those that were found to be sufficiently selective, half were commended for also meeting diversity goals.
• Only 6 percent of programs pay sufficient attention to the quality of student teaching, by establishing an expectation that only skilled teachers should be allowed to mentor a future teacher and requiring student teachers to be regularly observed by program staff.
• Fewer than half of all programs (44 percent) expect teacher candidates to demonstrate the most effective strategies for managing classrooms while student teaching.

Based on the research, NCTQ recommends that:
1. Teacher prep programs raise subject content requirements to require a solid education in all the subjects the future teacher will be licensed to teach, even in the broad categories of science and social studies
2. All aspiring social studies teachers should have to take the equivalent of at least a minor in history
3. All programs should require subject-specific teaching methods courses that provide practice
4. States should require new teachers to pass licensing tests in every subject they will teach, meaning that the many tests that allow a high score in one subject to compensate for a low score on another need to be retired

This edition of the Teacher Prep Review analyzes undergraduate programs preparing secondary school teachers. The next set of ratings from NCTQ will appear in Fall 2017, covering graduate and alternative (or nontraditional) programs preparing elementary teachers. The ratings for graduate and nontraditional secondary follow in Spring 2018, followed by undergraduate and graduate special education programs in Fall 2018.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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