Here's how some of Tennessee's teacher education programs finished in national rankings:
Elementary Education Programs
14 -- Lipscomb University•
27 -- University of Memphis
55 -- Austin Peay State University
88 -- Tennessee Technological University
155 -- Middle Tennessee State University
327 -- University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Note: 394 programs were ranked
Secondary Education Programs
2 -- Lipscomb University•
12 -- Austin Peay State University
17 -- Maryville College
28 -- Middle Tennessee State University
28 -- University of Memphis•
37 -- Union University
43 -- Vanderbilt University•
187 -- University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Note: 406 programs ranked
• Graduate program
Source: 2014 Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation's Teacher Preparation Programs, National Council on Teacher Quality
Tennessee has some of the best teacher training programs in the nation, according to a new analysis of more than 1,500 schools. They're just not in Chattanooga.
In its second annual review of the nation's teacher preparation programs, the National Council on Teacher Quality gives high praise to Lipscomb University, the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt and Austin Peay for their job of getting future teachers ready for the classroom. But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- a major training ground for our local public schools -- finished closer to the bottom.
Several Tennessee programs finished among the top 50 in the nation. UTC's elementary education program finished at no. 327 of 394 programs ranked. Its secondary education program finished at 187 of 406 ranked. Georgia programs saw varying success. Georgia Southern finished at No. 47 in elementary education, with the University of Georgia ranking 260th and Berry College finishing at 394.
In studying 1,612 schools of education or alternative teaching programs, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group painted a dismal picture of how the nation prepares its teachers. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said that such programs are generally "deplorable" in the United States. She said there are too many programs and too many are just doing a poor job of preparing teachers. Policy makers and colleges have made education one of the easiest jobs to get into, Walsh said, though teaching is one of the toughest jobs.
"We've sent all the wrong messages," she said. "And in too many cases we're not attracting people who are prepared for the challenges of the classroom."
The quality of teacher training programs has a direct impact on students, as academic researchers often say that the quality of a teacher is the most important predictor at school of a student's success.
And national research shows that the nation's teaching corps is growing younger and less experienced, not to mention that churn is constant -- some estimates say half of teachers leave within the first five years.
Raising the bar on the teacher prep pipeline is somewhat of a natural extension of the reform work already taking place in American public schools. In Tennessee, state officials have altered teacher tenure rules, implemented tougher teacher evaluations and raised teaching standards. So it's no wonder that policy makers here and across the country are now looking to improve schools of education -- the report cites 33 states as having passed new regulations on teacher education programs.
Tennessee recently raised the bar on the entry exam. And now, student teachers are only allowed to work with veteran teachers who were rated as effective on evaluations.
"State regs actually make a difference," Walsh said. "I know we have a lot of really ineffective state regulations. But Tennessee has a lot of really good ones."
Last year, the study came under attack for its methodology, which includes reviews of syllabi, student teacher handbooks, demographic data, employer surveys and various state regulations.
"I think it's based on limited information," said Valerie Rutledge, dean of UTC's College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.
Rutledge said UTC, like other teacher prep programs, has worked to raise the bar. The minimum GPA requirement -- both for entry and graduation -- was recently boosted from 2.5 to 2.75. And other reforms, like those making the licensing exams tougher to pass, are working to elevate the quality of teacher training, she said.<style type="text/css"></style>
"All of those pieces are all out there moving forward at the same time," she said.
Rutledge said the university will closely examine the results of the National Council on Teacher Quality's findings. But she said a better yardstick of their progress is the state's own report card on teacher training programs. That report studies programs based on how well their graduates perform in the classroom -- that is, what effect they have on student test scores. Such measures are not included in the national study. In 2013, Tennessee's annual report found that all but one of UTC's education programs produced teachers that performed on average better than veteran teachers.
Both Tennessee's report and the national study are designed to help school districts make hiring decisions and allow prospective teachers to see how various programs fare. But ultimately, neither study may have much sway come hiring season.
"If they're a quality candidate, that's our main consideration," said Stacy Stewart, assistant superintendent of human resources for Hamilton County Schools. "We don't ever eliminate someone from consideration based on where they graduated."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.