The University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP), along with teacher preparation programs from across the state of Illinois1 and the nation, declined to participate in the recent National Council of Teacher Quality/U.S. News and World Report review of university-based teacher preparation. UChicago UTEP’s central reason for declining to participate is our view that the NCTQ review process—based primarily on any participating or non-participating program’s available course syllabi—relies on partial, decontextualized information to make judgments about teacher preparation programs that have little to no bearing on the quality of the teachers these programs develop. NCTQ’s flawed analysis threatens to focus the country and teacher preparation programs on inputs rather than the outputs that matter—such as where teachers teach, how long they stay in the field, and the quality of teaching and learning experienced by their students.
We strongly support efforts to carefully examine teacher preparation programs, including our own. However, we believe that any national review of teacher preparation should focus on all programs types—not just university programs—and be based on the broad and meaningful outcomes the programs achieve.
Of particular concern are the narrow lenses applied by NCTQ to evaluate the complex work of learning to teach. UChicago UTEP honors the situated nature of meaning-making and the learning of discrete skills, processes, and practices. Our teachers undertake intensive clinical practice under supervision by expert clinical instructors—much like the way doctors are trained through intensive residency. UChicago UTEP’s aspiring teachers are enrolled in courses that link their clinical experience with a deep study of subject matter, empirical evidence about effective teacher practices, and the study of urban schooling, including consideration of their students' identity development and the impact of culture on learning. Situated in the home and philosophical tradition of John Dewey, we believe that authentic learning is derived from recursive “doing.” The impact these intense learning experiences have on our teacher graduates and their students cannot be gleaned from a set of readings and assignments on course syllabi—NCTQ’s primary data source.
We take issue with the areas where the NCTQ review found weaknesses in our program: admissions selectivity and the development of deep math and literacy expertise in the elementary program. Each UChicago UTEP applicant undergoes a thorough review of paper credentials and all finalists must participate on a panel interview with expert staff, a school observation and analysis, a group task, and a demonstration lesson. Taken as a whole, this application, interview, and review process is as rigorous as any we are aware of nationwide.
The critique that UChicago UTEP does not develop deep literacy and mathematics expertise is an indictment of NCTQ’s review process, not of UChicago UTEP’s program. The UChicago UTEP elementary program was specifically designed to address the content areas of literacy and mathematics, and—more recently—the Common Core State Standards. UChicago UTEP is one of the only programs in the state of Illinois that requires its candidates to take and master multiple math courses as a core requirement of its preparation program, and is one of the only programs in the nation that trains aspiring teachers in a systematic approach to literacy instruction for two full years. In short, UChicago UTEP’s level and quality of clinical preparation and coursework focused on literacy and mathematics is unparalleled. Likewise, the intensity of the program, spanning five years and including three years of ongoing support for graduates, has few counterparts.
We stand firmly behind our work as an example of one of the most systematic and intensive pre-service training efforts in the country—and we have considerable evidence to suggest we are on the right track. UChicago UTEP’s five-year retention rates average an extraordinary 90 percent across our graduate cohorts. Nationally, 50 percent of teachers leave the profession after five years—in Chicago and the urban environments where our graduates teach, a mere 30 percent of all teachers persist through their fifth year in the field.
Further, in a recent study, 74 percent of first-year UChicago UTEP teachers were rated as having proficient or distinguished practice on the Danielson Framework, compared to 57% of non-UTEP teachers. None of our teachers were rated unsatisfactory.
In a school system saturated with teachers, UChicago UTEP’s graduate hire rate is 100 percent. An additional 20 percent of our alumni have served as Lead Teachers or Clinical Instructors, building a pipeline of teacher leadership in the city of Chicago. Finally, federally funded research currently in-progress suggests UChicago UTEP teachers have significant, positive impacts on student learning, build strong relationships with families, and collaborate with colleagues to improve practice.
These outcomes matter. While we continuously strive to improve our program, we remain focused on judging the efficacy of our work on the quality of our teachers' instructional practices, the relationships they foster in their schools and communities, and their ability to meaningfully engage students. Poorly conceived ratings will not distract us from pursuing the complex, powerful work of developing teachers who deepen student learning and improve academic achievement.
We hope all engaged in and passionate about this crucial work will do the same.
1Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI)
Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education (CCADE)
Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (IACTE)
Illinois Association of Deans of Public Colleges of Education (IADPCE)
Illinois Association of Teacher Educators (IATE)
Illinois Association for Teacher Education in Private Colleges (IATEPC)