The University of North Georgia (UNG) and Brenau University are defending their teacher preparation program in the face of a new national report that casts a dim light on some such programs.
UNG says national and state concerns about K-12 education and student success have placed the teaching profession and college and university teaching preparation programs at the forefront of public and political agendas in recent years. UNG says it has responded with innovative instructional programs and strengthened partnerships with area K-12 schools.
"Teachers are one of the most important factors in the successful education of our children," said Dr. Bob Michael, dean of the College of Education at UNG. "We are committed to ensuring our teacher preparation program meets and exceeds the high expectations of families and the American public."
One example that was cited by school officials is UNG's professional development community (PDC) model that puts university students and their professors in area public schools in a two-year, full-immersion model that translates into at least 50 percent more field experience than is required for teacher certification. Additionally, student teachers in the program take their college courses at the public school, providing a more integrated experience that includes pre-planning activities and parent-teacher conferences.
The university earned full accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for its undergraduate- and graduate-level teacher training programs this past fall. The national accreditation includes a seven-year review of its programs and effectiveness measures, as well as a site visit.
In their final report, NCATE reviewers called UNG's approach to teacher training notable and commended faculty for their collaboration with pre-K through 12th-grade partners throughout the region, giving the highest rating possible in the area of best practices in service.
Despite the college's success, Michael and many other educational leaders are concerned about a new report produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and published in U.S. News and World Report they say paints an inaccurate and misleading picture of the university's teacher preparation programs. (See NCTQ link below. Second link) The report includes a grading of academic programs at approximately 1,400 institutions nationwide that prepare K-12 teachers, including 22 within the University System of Georgia. NCTQ is an organization that is advocating for change in teacher training programs, state-level education policy, and district-level teacher contracts.
"We continually seek data and information that will help us improve our programs, including this report; however, because the rankings expressed in the NCTQ report were based on limited measurements, like syllabi descriptions of content and credit hours, it is an inadequate evaluation of the state's teacher preparation programs," Michael said.
Dr. Susan Brandenburg-Ayers, associate dean for teacher education, added that, contrary to the report's assessment, UNG's education program emphasizes common core content to ensure teachers are well-versed in subject matter as well as education theory and practical teaching skills.
"UNG's early childhood education students are required to take a rigorous sequence of literacy and science courses, for example," she said. "This ensures that teachers have knowledge about the subjects they teach and the skills to apply that knowledge and be successful in the classroom."
That content knowledge is tested each year as teacher candidates must pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) before they can become certified for professional licensure. UNG students have routinely surpassed state averages for the overall pass rate for the GACE exams and the most recent year's data indicates a 98.5 percent pass rate. (Link to GACE data is below.)
"Our graduates are in high demand because superintendents and principals know that teachers who earn a degree from UNG are well-equipped to help students succeed," Michael said. "These are dedicated young professionals who are committed to quality education, and they are well-prepared to impact student success and achievement."
This spring, more than 300 UNG students graduated with plans to enter the teaching field.
Brenau University released a statement Thursday morning addressing the matter.
"The most effective measurement of the quality of an academic program is its accreditation," the statement reads, "which is approved only after heavy scrutiny by the accrediting body, which in the case of teacher education programs is the National Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE. That review, which usually lasts more than a year and comes around every seven years, includes on-site visits and inquiries by top professionals in the field. Just two years ago NCATE approved continuing the Brenau University College of Education accreditation for its undergraduate and graduate-level programs for an additional seven-year period.
"We're not sure how the recent survey was conducted. The surveying organization, NCTQ, did not visit the campus or request any information about any of the Brenau programs from the university. Although the survey evaluated some of our programs in education, it did not rank them all, including our program for special education teachers, which generally receives high marks. It is ironic, too, that, while the survey was apparently being conducted, the organization's media partner, U.S. News & World Report was ranking one of Brenau's teacher education programs among the top 10 in the nation."
In conclusion, the statements emphasizes that Brenau is committed to producing top-quality teacher education programs.
"That is and has been part of the Brenaui legacy. If you consider that the Brenau College of Education has placed teachers in classrooms all over Georgia, that is a good sign that we are doing something right."