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My Turn: N.H. colleges prepare our teachers well

This week, the Monitor ran an article about a recent report issued by the advocacy group the National Council on Teacher Quality (“Report: Programs aren’t preparing teachers,” Monitor, June 19). The report ranked college teacher preparation programs based on the NCTQ’s own set of standards and gave ratings ranging from zero to five stars. The report also labeled some programs with a “consumer advisory” because they felt that prospective students and school districts should be aware that those schools do not meet the minimum criteria of the NCTQ’s study.

The study itself is rather contentious. Many experts, such as Stanford University’s Linda-Darling Hammond and Diane Ravitch from New York University, have derided the methodology of the report.

These critics point to the fact NCTQ did not actually visit most of these schools, and much of their work was based on loosely gathered documents that were easily available online or through simple information requests.

There was little actual follow-up with these programs, and the vast majority of schools are not ranked because they did not even participate.

Furthermore, the study was co-produced by U.S. News & World Report, which makes a profit off of ranking schools and colleges. Even a scan of the NCTQ’s advisory board will show many members who come from businesses and organizations with serious corporate interests in education.

What was most discouraging to me was the fact that Plymouth State University, my alma mater, was given one of these arbitrary “consumer advisory” labels in the report. While I cannot speak to the many other schools in this publication, I can say that this particular rating is absurd.

Plymouth State University has been preparing teachers since 1871, a tradition that few schools can match. The institution is fully accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which holds incredibly high standards for its member schools. In fact, PSU has held continuous accreditation since 1954, when it was a member of the first cohort of schools to receive such status.

Beyond ratings and labels, I can say without a doubt that I have been a successful social studies teacher because I received a top-notch education at Plymouth State. When I entered the classroom, I was completely prepared for all the challenges I faced because I took many practical courses and participated in hundreds of hours of supervised pre-service practicum work at PSU.

My professors were highly respected experts in the field of education and they work tirelessly with practicing teachers and administrators to make sure that what we learned in our program was directly addressing the ever-changing needs of our K-12 students.

I became a content expert through my history courses at PSU, and I received the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for scoring in the top 15 percent nationally on the Praxis II certification test. I also received the Plymouth County Educators Association “Rookie of the Year” award in 2008 for my success as a first-year teacher.

My employers were immediately impressed with what I had to show for my time at Plymouth State, and my students have been successful because I learned how to adapt and grow as an educator at PSU.

Fortunately, schools and districts throughout New England know firsthand that Plymouth State and these other institutions have a proven track record of producing well-prepared teachers.

New Hampshire should be proud of the institution it supports, and I applaud New Hampshire Education Commissioner Dr. Virginia Barry for not joining her regional peers in endorsing such a superficial report.

Few will contest that there are bad programs out there, or that we must always be improving our practice, but most will agree that schools like Plymouth State University empower teachers to help our students succeed from day one.

(Rob Powers is a high school social studies teacher at Apponequet Regional High School in Lakeville, Mass., and a 2007 graduate of Plymouth State University.)

Rob, I read your commentary on Diane Ravitch's blog. I am a retired Wash, DC Public Schools social studies teacher. I have concerns about the focus of many teacher prep programs as well as the destructive role of the current education reform movement, which NCTQ supports. As social studies teachers, we teach content courses, mostly U.S. History, world history (sometimes called area studies), global studies or world cultures, government/civics and, less commonly, sociology, anthropology. It would be helpful for my understanding, if you could list the content courses you were required to take as well as content electives for your BA at Plymouth. For history courses, what were the time periods and content focus (survey, social history, etc.)? Thanks

Sorry I didn't see this sooner. I had to take two U.S. history survey courses, two survey geography courses, a survey anthro/sociology course, two survey political science courses, 5 upper-level history (two European, at least one U.S., and one world) courses, an upper level political science course, an upper-level geography, an upper-level anthro/sociology, a cultural diversity course, an economics survey course...that's what I can remember off the top of my head. This was in addition to about 30 credits in education courses, and general education requirements. A very well-balanced B.S. Social Science degree.

Way to go, Sail. You've successfully defended a subjective report by using data there are historically and notoriously subjective: grades.

Here are some facts to ponder: Overland Park, Kan. — "Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to catch them up and prepare them for regular coursework." "Which college field of study has the lowest standards and the highest grades. If you guessed “teaching,” you’d be right. That’s the conclusion of a new study from the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, “Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers.” “Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline,”

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