posted July 26, 2011

Hope College Response Regarding National Council on Teacher Quality

** The following is a letter sent to Hope College education alumni in response to the recent report of the National Council on Teacher Quality. **

Dear Hope College Alum,

By now you may have seen or heard news of a report in U.S.News and World Report that an organization known as the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has issued on the state of student-teaching in the United States. NCTQ has given Hope College's student-teaching program a rating of "poor."  On behalf of the Education Department and Hope College, I want to provide you with an explanation for and assure you that the quality of our program is and remains outstanding.

First and foremost, I want to express our deep dismay at this unjust and unwarranted assessment.  The teacher education program at Hope has and continues to be ranked in the top tier of programs in the state of Michigan.  We undergo continuous, rigorous review at both the state and national levels.  No department at Hope is more carefully scrutinized by such a wide and varied set of constituencies as the Education Department.  Every single academic major within the teacher education program has undergone significant and regular standards-based review by the Michigan Department of Education.  As an example, our Elementary Education program was recently revamped and submitted to the MDE for approval. The reviewers approved it on the first round of the review process and noted, in particular its coherence and thorough attention to the related standards.

In addition, our program has held almost continuous national accreditation through the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) since 1960.  This accrediting agency is one of only two authorized by the national government to review and accredit teacher education programs.  The accreditation process, which evaluates every aspect of a teacher education program, is rigorous, ongoing, time-consuming and costly.  Of the 1300 or so teacher education programs across the nation, NCATE has traditionally only granted accreditation to about 550 institutions.  At a time when this accreditation was voluntary, Hope's Education Department repeatedly submitted to this thorough and methodical review process; as a result, we were one of a handful of programs in the state of Michigan that held this national accreditation.  The State has recently, though, mandated that all teacher education programs hold national accreditation by the 2013-2014 academic year.  We are in the process of once again preparing our materials for accreditation, though this time through the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC); we anticipate a similar, positive outcome following the review.

You will note from the above information that NCTQ is not an accrediting agency, although it purports to have authority to judge teacher education programs.  While we welcome and regularly submit our program to scrutiny, the process and procedures followed by NCTQ were not only unethical, they were also flawed.  We were contacted by NCTQ in the Spring of 2009 with a request to provide information about our program.  At the time, we asked, through the Dean for the Social Sciences, not to be included in their study, particularly because we were already suspect of their methodology and motives.  We were promptly informed, though, that we had no choice in the matter.  They were going to review our program with or without our input.  At this point, we became highly concerned; research ethics hold that no one can or should be coerced into participating in a research study.  Clearly, this was not the case with NCTQ, so we reluctantly, yet repeatedly provided all the documentation they requested.

This process continued for almost two years, during which time they provided their assessment of our student teaching program, particularly at the elementary level.  They repeatedly indicated that we had not met a number of their "standards," none of which had undergone scrutiny or review by any outside agencies or institutions at a state or national level.  While we met a number of their standards, we "failed" some that actually we hold as points of pride in our program (i.e., our ability to place student teachers in student teaching centers in Chicago, Philadelphia and Liverpool, England).  We vigorously objected to their ratings a number of times, but in the end realized that our efforts were in vain.

It was at that point that we realized that we were not alone in our alarm.  . Both the American Association of Universities and the Council for Independent Colleges have criticized NCTQ for its narrow interpretations.  A number of top-tier universities from across the country have also roundly criticized both NCTQ and U.S. News & World Report for the way in which this study was conducted.  While more or less forcing institutions to participate, they also patently dismissed NCATE and TEAC as not having enough rigor, and routinely ignored the meticulous and thorough review processes already in place in states across in the nation.

The Education Department reviews, assesses, modifies and controls the quality of its curriculum with terrific vigor and diligence. Furthermore, our education students continue to be certified and hired in local, national, and international K-12 settings at a rate that reflects well their content mastery, pedagogical acumen, and commitment to children and youth.

Finally, you should know that the teacher ed program is staffed and organized in such a manner that it robustly reflects each of the four distinctives of the Hope College academic program:

1. Learning by Doing -- Hope College teacher ed students are actively involved in local K-12 classrooms as part of every education course they take - some as early as the first year in college. Unlike many other colleges and universities, student-teaching at Hope is the last, not the first practical experience our students receive.

2. Academic and Christian -- Hope College teacher ed students are educated in ways that reflect the values and commitments of the historic Christian faith. The faculty is committed to providing a rigorous, thorough program.

3. Professor-Student Engagement. -- Education Department faculty take seriously their obligation to form personal relationships with their students, both as a way to add value to their professional preparation and to ensure that only qualified students are endorsed for certification.

4. Program Breadth -- The Education Department offers one of the programs at Hope College that provides an excellent technical preparation in a discipline that allows students to enter a credentialed area of professional practice while also ensuring that its graduates are broadly educated in the liberal arts.

As our Provost, Richard Ray, noted in a recent communication to the campus community, "I am the father of two Hope College Education Department graduates.  Both were shaped by their student-teaching experiences in ways that reinforced their content mastery, teaching skill, professional identity, and love for kids. The ill-informed judgments of the NCTQ do an injustice to them and the hundreds of their peers who are prepared to be a force for positive change in an education system that desperately needs their gifts. Hope College is proud of its record of educating outstanding teachers."

I apologize for the length of this communication, but wanted you to have the facts about the events that have transpired.  I stand ready to answer your questions and concerns, but want to assure you that the Education Department will continue to deliver the high quality program that it has always provided.

Sincerely,
Nancy L. Cook
Interim Chairperson
Director of Student Teaching
ncook@hope.edu