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Report says teacher education lacks rigor

But UNC's education dean says methodology for rating schools is flawed

Fourteen UNC-system schools of education are mentioned in the report. Twelve schools were rated as below the necessary standard of rigor, while UNC-CH and UNC-Asheville both were rated as meeting the standard.

The report, called “Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them,” claims education majors are more likely to graduate with honors than other majors. But Bill McDiarmid, dean of the UNC School of Education, said he thinks the report’s methodology is faulty.

“It can be misleading for the public who aren’t going to look at the methodology,” McDiarmid said. “It misrepresents other schools and colleges of education within our system, and I think some of them are doing an outstanding job, and they are all trying to improve.”

The council collected data from graduation brochures and compared the number of students from education programs who earned honors with students from other majors. The council also analyzed syllabuses and coursework to determine which programs required students to demonstrate concrete knowledge versus subjectivity or opinion.

McDiarmid said because universities determine this data in different ways and the council did not take into consideration any context or specifics of each program, the data does not accurately describe the program’s rigor.

He referred to UNC’s Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching program, which allows students to earn a teaching license while studying for a math or science degree. He said those students wouldn’t show up on education statistics at all.

But Kate Walsh, president of the council, said the data collected is legitimate and portrays a national problem in teacher education.

“We were able to examine in a very unique way, an unusual way, but we think a very meaningful way, how many students are graduating with very high grades, and we were able to compare them with students on the same campus, not a different campus, so that’s very telling,” she said.

“Here is one more piece of evidence that (teachers) are not getting what they believe they are purchasing.”

Still, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education released a statement accusing the report of flaws in evidence and sampling size in an attempt to prove that the education field disproportionately inflates grades.

Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, published an editorial criticizing the report’s methodology. Like UNC-CH, Michigan State ranked well in the report, but Heller said in an interview that he still disagrees with its results.

“We don’t have any problem being held accountable for high standards as long as things are being measured in an appropriate way,” Heller said.

“They really can’t make a case for the primary claim in the report which is that education schools are easier graders than other parts of universities.”

Walsh said the report indicates the poor quality of teaching programs nationally, something she says seriously affects the quality of America’s schools.

“There’s no quicker way (for a profession) to be considered low status than to have no admission standards and no completion standards,” she said. “There’s a great deal of power within teacher education to raise the status of the profession by making it harder to get into. That doesn’t discount the need for better pay, especially in places like North Carolina where pay is so low.”

McDiarmid said the School of Education is taking steps to improve the quality of teacher training, but he thinks data showed in this report could negatively affect progress.

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“It can mislead the public into thinking Carolina has a rigorous program and East Carolina doesn’t have a rigorous program, and I don’t think you can say that. We don’t have the data to say that,” he said.