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New teacher training study decries California universities

A controversial policy group singles out teacher training programs at UCLA and Loyola Marymount as hardly worth attending. But the schools say the report is flawed.

June 18, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Sacred Heart Chapel shines in the sun light at Loyola Marymount University.
Sacred Heart Chapel shines in the sun light at Loyola Marymount University. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

A new front is opening in the education wars as a report released Tuesday derides California's teacher training schools as among the worst in a nation full of substandard programs.

The study by a controversial Washington, D.C.-based policy group singles out UCLA and Loyola Marymount University, among others, as hardly worth attending. Both have strong reputations within the field.

The report, issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality, is getting attention as a new annual offering among the education ratings published by U.S. News & World Report. The magazine's ratings of high schools and colleges already are much debated.

"It's widely agreed upon that there's a problem" with teacher training, said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. "The report points out that California has an acute set of problems."

Graduate training programs in California are more likely to accept lower-achieving students and far less likely to provide feedback on such important skills as managing behavior in a classroom, compared to programs nationwide.

California's approach to training teachers focuses heavily on "addressing racist attitudes, gender bias and classism — creating a professional identity so the person is philosophically disposed to becoming a good teacher," said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

What's missing, however, is sufficient instruction in how to teach and what methods have been proved to work best, Walsh said.

Nationally, only four programs, all of them for high school teachers, received the highest rating: Ohio State, Furman in South Carolina, and Lipscomb and Vanderbilt in Tennessee.

Of programs at Loyola Marymount and more than 20 other California colleges, the report concluded: "No prospective teacher candidates should entrust their preparation to these programs because candidates are unlikely to obtain much return on their investment. Further, school districts should be aware that these programs are not providing even minimal training to their candidates."

Loyola Marymount officials said the study was incomplete and based on uneven, partial data.

"In the case of LMU, they got it wrong," said Shane Martin, dean of the school of education. But he added that the school would "see what we can learn from it."

Loyola Marymount was among hundreds of schools that declined to send in requested information. Martin noted that some non-participants, including USC, were left out of the report entirely. But the authors rated more than 1,000 programs, based on voluntary participation, court orders to produce documents and an analysis of student materials and websites.

UCLA participated but questioned whether the advocacy group looked deeply enough. It received a one-star rating for its elementary school teacher training program and 1 1/2 stars for its high school program.

"Principals in L.A. are fighting over our graduates," said Megan Franke, chairwoman of UCLA's department of education.

Schools of education have attracted periodic, sharp criticism for decades, but change has been slow. Teach for America and on-the-job intern programs have developed as alternatives. For-profit schools also have grown.

The National Council on Teacher Quality is known for taking sides in heated policy debates. For example, it strongly favors using student standardized test scores as a substantial portion of a teacher's evaluation.

The group has long had its sights on college-based teacher training; it previously helped develop a certification test that allowed teachers to bypass such training entirely. The group's current leadership no longer endorses that approach. Instead, it asserts that training programs matter and that they vary widely in quality.

The leading funders for the $4.8-million study include the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Broad Foundation, based in Los Angeles.

The researchers were trying to develop a consistent, relevant rating scale, including such measures as whether incoming teachers learn to analyze student performance data and whether they learn about phonics-based reading instruction. The council said its effort will evolve and should become increasingly reliable.

California programs rated as doing well in training high school teachers included UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and the University of Redlands. They generally received better marks for teaching basic reading and for their student-teaching opportunities.

Of 71 elementary training programs rated in California, 64% received the lowest scores.

One reason is that California focuses its traditional teacher training in one year of graduate work; undergraduate course work is not typically available for teacher training. The idea is that undergraduates should devote full attention to their specialization, such as English or chemistry.

But as a result, too little time is allotted for teacher training, according to the study.

State officials defended California's approach.

"It's disappointing that this report applied a one-size-fits-all checklist," State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. "Those who are serious about examining the quality of teacher preparation efforts will have to look elsewhere for more reliable and useful information."

howard.blume@latimes.com

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