Teacher prep programs at UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington and Elon University earned high marks in a new national study by the National Council on Teacher Quality, but the group says most universities in North Carolina and the nation have a long way to go.
"Far more needs to be done to expand the pool of teachers properly prepared to meet the challenges of the contemporary American classroom," the report says. "Still, an upsurge in quality has begun. It is good news indeed to be able to report some movement, however spotty, given the many attempts to improve teacher preparation that never even got off the ground."
UNC Chapel Hill got the state's best rating, ranked 17th in the nation for its graduate program in secondary education. Elon's undergraduate elementary education program ranked 22nd, and UNC Wilmington's graduate program in secondary education was 37th.
Just across the state line, South Carolina's Winthrop University was ranked 27th in the nation for undergraduate elementary and 147th for graduate secondary.
Other schools in the Charlotte area didn't fare as well. UNC Charlotte was ranked No. 101 for graduate elementary, 221 for graduate secondary and 260 for undergraduate elementary. Queens University's graduate program landed in the bottom half, which meant it didn't receive a rank. Belmont Abbey College, Wingate University and Pfeiffer University are listed as not having provided the requested information.
The council is a reform advocacy group funded by Gates, Broad, Carnegie, Walton and most of the other big names in education philanthropy (including the Charlotte-based Belk Foundation). N.C. Superintendent June Atkinson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison and former CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman, now an executive with the private ed-tech firm Amplify, are listed as supporters of the N.C. report.
This year's report also rates a sampling of alternative certification programs. "Alternative certification programs provide on-the-job training to teacher candidates. Candidates are placed in internship before obtaining initial certification and serve as teachers of record who are fully responsible for the students in their classrooms," the report says. The results, it concludes, were "even weaker than for traditional programs. NCTQ found their admissions standards to be too low, efforts to assess subject matter knowledge inadequate, and too little training or support provided to candidates who are asked to hit the ground running in the classroom."
Teach For America is probably the best known of these programs, but North Carolina's TFA wasn't among the sample rated. TFA in Massachusetts was the only alternative provider to earn high marks from the council, while other TFA's sampled landed low ratings -- along with South Carolina's PACE program and four Regional Alternative Licensing Centers in North Carolina.
The council hopes the rankings will be used by prospective students choosing schools, districts crafting recruitment strategies and government policymakers setting standards. Its conclusions are harsh on both the "bloated" traditional university approach and the alternatives that have popped up.
"In our view, the only reason not to pull the plug on the experiment of alternative certification is that traditional teacher preparation continues to have persistent flaws," the report concludes. "Were traditional preparation to add the value that it should, teachers produced by alternate routes would never be competitive for jobs anywhere. As long as traditional teacher preparation continues to be so generally substandard, we recognize the need for, indeed the value of, limited, well-regulated alternative certification programs whose outcomes are monitored and made public."