Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Here 's how the National Council on Teacher Quality rated Southern Nevada schools on its 0- to 4-star scale:
NEVADA STATE COLLEGE:
• Undergraduate elementary education program: 0 stars
• Undergraduate secondary education program: 1 star
• Undergraduate elementary education program: 1 star
• Undergraduate secondary education program: 1.5 stars
• Graduate-level elementary education program: 1 star
• Graduate-level secondary education program: 0 stars
• Graduate-level special education program: 0 stars
Nevada's colleges of education are not designed to adequately prepare its graduates for the teaching profession, according to a long-awaited and controversial report released this week.
Since January 2011, the National Council on Teacher Quality has been working on a report card for teacher preparation programs across the country.
Looking primarily at course material from colleges and universities, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group graded programs from zero stars to four stars based on 16 factors, such as how well teachers-in-training are taught new Common Core curriculum standards, ways to help struggling readers and English-language learners, and skills such as classroom management and lesson planning.
In its inaugural "Teacher Prep Review," which was published in U.S. News and World Report, the council rated 1,130 teacher preparation programs, including those at four Nevada schools.
Great Basin College, Nevada State College, UNLV and UNR were all rated between zero and 1.5 stars.
Just a fifth of Nevada's colleges are teaching how educators should address the more rigorous Common Core standards in reading and math. Nevada's teacher training programs also are not selective enough and give little feedback to students, according to the review.
In fact, the Silver State's colleges of education were deemed so inferior that the council placed them in a "consumer alert" list to warn parents, prospective students and school districts. (The report mentions a caveat, however, that even low-ranked teacher preparation programs can produce graduates who end up being effective.)
Nevada's colleges weren't alone in their low ratings, however. The council's report was a scathing indictment of teacher preparation programs nationally, issuing two-star or lower grades to 78 percent of schools.
Just four universities — Furman, Lipscomb, Ohio State and Vanderbilt — received the maximum four stars. On the other hand, 163 programs — including programs at all four Nevada colleges and universities surveyed — earned less than one star.
"The Review finds (teacher preparation programs) have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity," the report states.
"This whole report just confirmed my worst fears," said former state superintendent Jim Guthrie, who worked with the council to develop the study. "It's another nail in the coffin for Nevada public education."
Although some have applauded the report's findings, many colleges of education and teachers unions have criticized the council's efforts to rate teacher preparation programs.
Some public institutions have resisted participating in the study, arguing its methodology is unreliable and misleading.
Public colleges in Florida, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin have refused to cooperate with researchers, prompting the nonprofit group to file public records lawsuits and even enlist students to retrieve course documents.
"We were unable to apply all relevant standards to all programs, as we were derailed by widespread non-cooperation by institutions," the report states. "That is unfortunate for many reasons, but it should not make our findings any less meaningful or representative."
While Nevada colleges cooperated, they were quick to criticize the report.
"It contains a lot of flawed methodology," said Emily Lin, president of the Nevada Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "It doesn't accurately reflect the teacher preparation programs in Nevada and nationally. It has zero credibility."
Lin's chief issue with the report was with the use of "document review" — studying course syllabi and reading lists — to gain a sense of what was being taught in teacher preparation programs.
Lin, a UNLV associate professor of education, argued that just because a curriculum looks good on paper, it doesn't necessarily mean would-be teachers are absorbing it.
Furthermore, as education colleges adapt to changing reform efforts, such as the Common Core curriculum, syllabi can become quickly outdated — skewing the schools' ratings. The council collected syllabi over the course of several years.
Ultimately, looking solely at course documents is limiting because it doesn't include classroom observations, school district evaluations of graduates and student test scores from a graduate's classroom to give a fuller picture of the program's quality, Lin said.
"It's equivalent to looking at just the menu to rate a restaurant or looking at just the car manual to rate a car," Lin said. "You don't have anyone collecting data on how the food actually tastes or how the car actually drives."
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, agreed Tuesday that its inaugural "Teacher Prep Review" was "not a very deep look" into teacher training programs.
However, as the report states, the review was deep enough to "provide clear and convincing evidence, based on a four-star rating system, that a vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars."
Guthrie supported the council's use of document review to develop its rating system. The former state superintendent, along with former Clark County School Superintendent Dwight Jones, was listed as an endorser of the "Teacher Prep Review."
"These documents tell you what the institutions think is important," Guthrie said.
Rorie Fitzpatrick, the interim Nevada superintendent, said there currently is not enough data to compare Nevada's college of education graduates to those from other states. That's why it's difficult to validate the council's report, she said.
The vast majority of teachers in Nevada were trained in other states. But some prominent school officials were educated in Nevada. Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, for example, earned a master’s degree in educational administration at UNLV.
Although there is little teacher data to confirm or deny the council's report, Southern Nevada colleges contend their programs produce quality teachers.
UNLV's College of Education has won several awards from national groups. Both UNLV and Nevada State College are nationally certified and base their instruction on national and international standards.
"Our graduates are doing remarkable work," said Nevada State College spokesman Spencer Stewart. "Are all of them doing great? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely."
Regardless of the report's low rankings, one factor is clear: Budget cuts have hurt teacher preparation programs.
Since the recession, UNLV's College of Education lost more than 60 percent of its funding. Its six departments were slashed to three. Its faculty, which once numbered 110 strong, was whittled to 80.
Nevada State College saw similar cuts to its teacher training programs. The college was forced to eliminate several academic programs, including its Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. The college has been forced to double its reliance on part-time faculty.
"In order to build up a quality (teacher preparation) program that produces graduates that make a difference in the classroom, it requires quality faculty," Stewart said. "It's difficult to run a program without having continuity of faculty."