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Dean Underwood responds to review of teacher preparation programs

June 18, 2013

Julie Underwood, the dean of UW-Madison’s School of Education, issued the following letter on Tuesday, June 18:


You may have read or heard media reports about a review that is highly critical of teacher preparation programs released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and U.S. News and World Report.

Those of us within the UW-Madison School of Education agree that effective teachers are one of the most important factors in student learning.  It also is vitally important that we continually strive to find the most effective, proven methods for improving teaching and teacher preparation.

That said, I would like to explain why I believe the NCTQ report misses the mark by failing to offer a valid measure of our nationally recognized teacher education program and our ongoing commitment to developing high-quality teachers of tomorrow.

• First, NCTQ’s assertion that little attention has been paid to how teachers are being prepared to succeed in the classroom is uninformed. In the past year alone, UW-Madison’s School of Education has revamped its elementary, secondary and special education programs to better train teachers to meet the needs of school districts both within Wisconsin and across the nation.

Moving forward, our Elementary Education program will provide students dual licenses in Elementary Education, and either special education or English as a Second Language. These changes came about after internal and external reviews indicated that teachers needed to be better prepared to help with a wider range of students. In addition, research indicates that teachers who have dual prep backgrounds are more effective.

Meanwhile, our Secondary Education programs in English, mathematics, science and social studies are moving from the undergraduate to the graduate level, which provides an avenue into the teaching profession for those with an undergraduate degree.  Beginning in the summer of 2015, students will complete a 14-month program that leads to a master’s degree, in addition to dual certification in a specialized subject area and English as a Second Language.

Making changes to how our students are being trained is an ongoing, integral part of teacher preparation at UW-Madison.

• Similarly, the NCTQ report also fails to acknowledge new efforts to both assess whether recent graduates are ready for the classroom and to measure how current teachers are performing.

A new performance assessment, the edTPA, is designed to evaluate whether a graduate has the skills and knowledge to gain licensure. A range of resources are being committed across Wisconsin to ensure we are on pace to implement these evaluations for all teacher preparation programs by 2015.

Meanwhile, teacher performance assessments developed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, with broad input from UW-Madison and others around the state, are in the pilot phase. These results will enable us to better track the performance of our graduates and guide program reform efforts into the future.

• U.S. News and World Report has consistently rated UW-Madison’s School of Education among the nation’s best in its annual graduate school rankings.

Just three months ago, U.S. News ranked our school among its top 10 “Best Education Schools” for the 14th time in 15 years.

And when U.S. News’ rankings drilled down to the program level, education school deans and deans of graduate studies ranked us No. 1 in both Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Psychology. UW-Madison has been home to the top-ranked Curriculum and Instruction program every year since 2001. We also ranked third in Elementary Education, fifth in Secondary Education and 10th in Special Education.

• Finally, at the same time this NCTQ review is calling on teacher education programs to significantly bolster efforts to prepare graduates, it’s worth noting that the council has long advocated for alternative preparation routes to credentialing teachers, including Teach for America. These efforts include pushing for a different, lower set of standards regarding clinical experiences and content mastery requirements. If NCTQ’s goal truly is to work to ensure that every child has an effective teacher, such a campaign is difficult to justify as it flies in the face of research that concludes alternative preparation routes do not produce higher quality teachers.

These are some of the reasons why I take issue with NCTQ’s efforts to degrade UW-Madison’s School of Education, the teachers it prepares, and our unflinching focus on improving how we serve our students and our many K-12 education partners.

I am willing to engage in open, honest conversations examining ways we can all work together to better train and develop the teachers of tomorrow. While I acknowledge the right of NCTQ to express its viewpoints on teacher preparation programs, until the council is more transparent about its agenda and more willing to share important details about how its analysis of teacher preparation programs was compiled, I’ll remain highly skeptical of the report’s conclusions and their value in moving efforts forward to produce skilled teachers.

Dean Julie Underwood
UW-Madison School of Education

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