“Maybe we should ask some deeper more existential questions about the value of teacher education as it is constructed,” he said.
One study, by Cory Koedel of the University of Missouri, found that undergraduate education schools tend to give higher grades to students than other departments, a finding supported by data that The Hechinger Report collected from UCF.
Of UCF’s 65 departments, just six, including three small programs run through the dean’s office and the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, a graduate video game design program, gave out a higher percentage of As in their classes than the School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership. The data shows that 73 percent of grades awarded in these teacher training courses from fall 2011 to summer 2012 were A’s or A-minuses, compared to 34 percent in electrical engineering and 40 percent in food services and lodging management.
“Students are graded individually based on their mastery of professional knowledge and skills; there’s no grading on a curve,” UCF spokesperson Courtney Gilmartin said in an email. “If faculty members do their job well … every future teacher demonstrates their competencies to the highest level and graduates with the knowledge and skills required to become a highly effective classroom teacher.”
Many education schools across the country similarly argue that grades are a positive reflection of those enrolled in an education school, not a condemnation of them. A good grade doesn’t mean it wasn’t earned, said Mike Rosen, an education student at Daytona State College. “The assignments are not easy,” he said, noting that some keep him up until the early hours of the morning. “But every single one of them is necessary.”
Arthur McKee, managing director of teacher preparation studies at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been one of the most vocal critics of teacher preparation programs, says he doesn’t believe that the high GPAs of education students can be explained by excellent professors or dedicated students.
“We think it’s much more possible that the teacher preparation programs are just not holding the candidates themselves to a high enough standard,” he said.
NCTQ has pushed for aggressive education reforms across the country and have targeted teacher preparation programs as institutions in need of drastic changes. This summer, in partnership with U.S. News and World Report, the group plans to release a highly controversial set of ratings for teacher training programs based on the syllabuses of classes offered at schools of education. Critics of the group’s methodology say the focus on coursework won’t solve the problem of figuring out which schools are producing the best teachers and which aren’t.
Sandy Robinson, dean of UCF’s education program, noted that grades are not the only factor in determining if a student graduates. Students must also spend 800 hours in a classroom. Regardless of their grades, they may be counseled out of the education program if they don’t perform well during their internships or student teaching. “That’s an important part of the responsibility we have,” Robinson said.
Many education school critics say in-classroom experience should be an essential if not the main focus. Florida requires 10 weeks of full-time student teaching in order to complete a traditional education program. Teacher candidates must also “demonstrate they can make a positive impact on student learning,” said Kathy Hebda, a deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education.