Tennessee's Teacher Prep Programs Make the Grade

You may have heard that the United States might be losing its edge in the realm of education. Compared to other developed nations, the nation is falling behind in math and reading, and according to a 2013 "Council on Foreign Relations" report, its graduation rate ranking has declined sharply over the last three decades. While policy hawks and politicians disagree about how to address such criticisms, many states are already knee-deep in comprehensive educational reform. Curriculum is only part of the equation -- producing talented teachers is another. For a glimpse at one state that seems to be getting it right, look to Tennessee.


Tennessee teacher training makes its mark


As far as education metrics go, Tennessee is on an upward trajectory. By 2013, Western Kentucky University Pubic Radio reported that Tennessee's high school graduation rate was nearly two points higher than the national average. Education leaders say they hope to grow that share by another 10 percent by 2020. Part of the state's success lies in its education policy reform. According to Education Week's "Quality Counts 2013" rating system, Tennessee was one of only eight states that earned a perfect A rating for progress in policymaking. Another factor that also earned the state high marks: teacher development.

Just how great is Tennessee at training the next generation of teachers? Every year the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) grades more than 1,200 teacher preparation programs nationwide. Those with programs that earn at least three out of four stars are then featured on the council's Honor Roll. This year, Tennessee housed more honor roll programs than any other state in the nation, and of the mere four programs making the elusive Dean's List, which denotes a perfect four-star rating, two were from Tennessee schools -- Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University. Of honorable mention is the University of Memphis, which was one of only 13 universities to have more than one highly rated program, something even Lipscomb and Vanderbilt can't claim.

Related NCTQ assessments provide insight into what sets so many Tennessee teacher training programs apart. The state boasts better-than-average student teaching experiences, for instance, one of the key parts of becoming a certified teacher in the state. (Learn more about how to gain teaching certification in Tennessee.) It also outperforms most states in areas like classroom management training and content preparation, and excels in secondary teacher preparation. Overall, the NCTQ gave Tennessee a B- for its ability to deliver well-prepared teachers, quite a feat considering the national average was a D+.

To really understand what makes Tennessee teacher training so remarkable, however, it helps to consider the programs themselves. Let's look at the two that made the dean's list.


Lipscomb University: Content counts


If teaching colleges in Tennessee -- or the nation -- need a role model, Lipscomb University would be the ideal candidate. Lipscomb University has a track record in teacher preparation excellence. Its undergraduate secondary education program earned it a spot on the NCTQ Dean's List. The dean of the Lipscomb's College of Education, Dr. Candice McQueen, attributes much of the program's success to its focus on innovation and content-based training.

"Over the last four or five years, we have really become known for excellence in innovation in the college of education," McQueen said in a video featured on NCTQ's Pretty Darn Quick blog. She said the school emphasizes content, not just pedagogy. The school's math teaching graduates, for example, are only two courses shy of earning a full math degree. "They have come out of the program with essentially a degree within that specific content area."

LU also has a reputation for evolving its programs to match the state's changing needs, especially in the area of curriculum. McQueen noted that last year, LU and the Ayers Foundation established the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation. Its primary goal: To imbed a deep understanding of Common Core curriculum into teacher education so that it would fall more in line with the professional reform happening at the statewide level.


Vanderbilt University: Emphasizing quality, scope


Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development is home to another Tennessee teacher training program that has earned national praise for its innovation and success. Its graduate secondary program was among the four to make the NCTQ Dean's List, but its accolades do not end there. According to the school's official website, U.S. News & World Report ranked Peabody the No. 1 graduate school of education in the nation for 2014. This was its fifth consecutive year to claim such a title. Many Peabody programs also ranked in the top 10 within the publication's specialty rankings, including top billings for administration/supervision and special education.

Part of Peabody's success might be attributed to its diverse curricula. In addition to offering several bachelor's, master's and doctoral education degree programs, VU runs intensive summer institutes that delve into a broad range of topics impacting education in Tennessee -- and the nation at large -- like achievement gaps, higher education management and beginning teachers. VU is not only noted for its successes training teachers, however. In October 2013, when Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced his state would build a "pipeline" for highly-trained principals, VU was chosen to head the program. By developing education administrators from a plethora of districts, VU would have the chance to bolster education achievement across the state.

Looking ahead: What's next for Tennessee?

Tennessee can make an excellent case for the success of its educational reforms in general, and its teacher training programs specifically. That is not to say there is no room for improvement. According to Education Week, while the Volunteer State shines at finding and developing teacher talent, it struggles to retain many of its top educators. The NCTQ, meanwhile, argues that the state needs to formulate policies that help improve elementary and special education preparation. Nonetheless, being able to produce skilled teachers is a first, important step in the quest for educational success, making Tennessee a model state.



"An inside look at some of the top teacher prep programs," National Council on Teacher Quality, June 17, 2013, http://www.nctq.org/commentary/viewStory.do?id=33661

"College of Education," Lipscomb University, http://www.lipscomb.edu/education

"Findings by State - Tennessee," National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013, http://www.nctq.org/teacherPrep/findings/stateFindings.do?state=TN#overview

"Gov. Bill Haslam announces state to partner with Vanderbilt to train school leaders," Vanderbilt University, October 29, 2013, http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/10/haslam-leadership-academy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+vupeabody+%28Vanderbilt+Peabody+College+News%29

"Peabody College of Education and Human Development," Vanderbilt University, http://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/

"State Policy Findings," National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013, http://www.nctq.org/statePolicy/state.do?stateId=43

"States Show Spotty Progress on Education Gauges," Education Week, January 4, 2013, Amy M. Hightower, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/10/16sos.h32.html?tkn=RLRF%2B4mUV1fjxGZAPk7Od%2FfW1p2K2SFHTAx9&cmp=clp-edweek&intc=EW-QC13-EWH

"Tennessee Has Biggest Improvement in High School Graduation Rate in Nation," WKYU FM, February 25, 2013, Kevin Willis, http://wkyufm.org/post/tennessee-has-biggest-improvement-high-school-graduation-rate-nation

"The Teacher Prep Review Honor Roll," National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013, http://www.nctq.org/teacherPrep/findings/honorRoll/index.jsp

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