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California Teacher Training Programs Ranked Lowest In Nation

Brianna Sacks |
June 18, 2013 | 9:03 p.m. PDT


A new, independent review evaluating national teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality and the U.S. News and World Report found that only four secondary programs in California made the honor roll, none of which were in Los Angeles.

Although most of the state's programs are among the worst in the country, only four programs nationwide, all in secondary teacher preparation, earned a four-star overall rating.

The Teacher Prep Review looked at over 1,100 colleges and universities across the nation that prepare elementary and secondary teachers and graded programs on a scale of zero to four stars on up to 18 standards. 

University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Irvine, Cal State and University of California-San Diego were the only programs that earned a 3-star rating or more out of the 71 programs in the state. Sixty-four of those surveyed scored the lowest possible ranking.

The council said California's 1970 Ryan Act played a large part in the state's disappointingly low-ranking programs, saying the law put more of an emphasis on graduate-level programs and mostly did away with the traditional undergraduate education degree. Education students then had seek an academic major and complete professional coursework in a year or less.

"It is actually a travesty how low the expectations are for elementary teachers in their subject area," Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, told the LA Daily News in a conference call with reporters. "We've gotten to the point that institutions will allow an elementary teacher to pretty major in anything or not enough of some things. For example, 70 percent of the institutions or the programs (in) our sample do not require their elementary teachers to ever take a single science course. Now presumably, they all have to teach science.

Megan Franke, chair of the Department of Education at UCLA, argues that the reason that elementary teachers in California may not have to take a single science course is because they were expected to have fulfilled those requirements before being accepted into any education program.

Franke says that states like California, which require their students to have a Bachelors of Arts before entering teacher preparation programs, fared far worse in the report than other states that offer mostly undergraduate education degrees.

Universities like UCLA do not require its graduate students to take as many courses in mathematics or science because it expects its students to have finished such requirements beforehand.

(U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussing teacher prep/U.S. Dept. of Education)
(U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussing teacher prep/U.S. Dept. of Education)
As a result, most graduate-level teacher preparation programs in the state were deemed weak, or did not receive a grade at all.

"I would argue that every program in Los Angeles received an unfair ranking because all of our students are in graduate programs that do not require as many courses as undergraduate programs," said Franke.

UCLA's graduate elementary program was given one star for its graduate-level elementary program and 1.5 stars for its secondary, the only program in Los Angeles to receive any ranking whatsoever, and like many schools nationwide, UCLA's Department of Education believes the findings are grossly inaccurate.

"The report has serious flaws, especially for institutions in Los Angeles and across the state," said Franke. "It doesn't look at what goes on in the classrooms."

Like many other education experts, Franke says that the council went about its two-year assessment by looking only at course syllabi, what courses were offered and how many courses students were required to take in a particular subject.

“It’s like doing restaurant reviews by looking at the menu rather than eating there,” said Catherine Cornbleth, a professor emeritus of education at the University at Buffalo, told EdWeek.

According to the report, Only three percent of California's elementary programs earned three or four stars for providing teacher candidates adequate content preparation, compared to 11 percent of elementary programs nationwide.

However, no elementary programs in the state even earned a spot on the report's honor roll.

UCLA's score of zero in the elementary program student teaching category was the most shocking result, said Franke, who explained that aspect is what the school is most known for and is the "cornerstone of the program."

UCLA isn't alone. Nearly 75 percent of California's teacher prep programs "entirely failed" to provide students with a "high quality student teaching experience."

Los Angeles Unified was also used as an example of a district that assigned too many of its first-year teachers to neediest students. But for a district like L.A. Unified, where most students fall into the "neediest student" category, most first-year teachers prepare to work in those schools.

"The report did not take into account that our programs and other programs in L.A. are focused on how to prepare students to teach in low-performing schools," said Franke.

Like most graduate programs in the state and in L.A., Loyola Marymount University's elementary program received no stars, as did almost all Cal State programs.

Thirty-three other programs in California were placed on a "consumer alert" lists since those programs did not earn a single star.

Ephraim P. Smith, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the California State University system, issued a response debunking the Council's findings, saying that its programs train highly qualified teachers "to address the increasing needs and diversity of our schools and students."

"Internal and external evaluations have consistently shown that CSU teacher graduates are among the best in the nation," Smith continued.

UCLA plans on doing the same.

"We do not even understand our own ranking," said Franke. "They didn't look at what our teachers know and how they teach, and that's a challenging way to rank teacher education programs."



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