As many in the education policy world know, the National Council on Teacher Quality is conducting a controversial review of the nation’s roughly 1,400 schools of education that will be published in U.S. News and World Report. While many schools are loudly refusing to participate, NCTQ and its supporters believe that clear standards and transparent evaluation will encourage schools to improve their teacher preparation programs and, in turn, their ratings. For that theory of change to work, a school’s rating must trigger market response: A school of education that receives a high rating should see more students apply as well as more districts interested in partnering with the school and hiring its graduates. The extent to which NCTQ’s national ratings matter will depend on whether districts and prospective teachers make decisions based on the ratings. The local nature of teacher labor markets makes it unlikely that this will happen in many parts of the country—will anyone in Weldon, NC really care that their one nearby school of education was rated poorly?
Last Thursday at NCTQ’s Student Teaching report release, Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ, noted that elite institutions—whose students may be more mobile than the average new teacher— have a lot to lose from national ratings and not a lot to gain. Many of these colleges and universities have excellent teacher education programs, but primarily retain their elite status based on the institution’s name and reputation. A bad rating could hurt their ability to recruit nationwide and tarnish the reputation of other programs. But for the vast majority of schools of education, students are local and teach locally.
A teacher is more likely to teach near their hometown and college. According to a 2005 study by Donald Boyd et al., 85% of beginning public school teachers in New York from 1999 to 2002 first taught in schools located within 40 miles of their hometown. As a result, a school of education’s location is likely more important to an aspiring teacher than a national rating. For many rural and suburban areas, there is only one nearby school of education, a monopoly largely immune from fallout over a low rating.
In urban areas with multiple schools of education, however, NCTQ’s ratings will likely have greater value. In a crowded market, a trusted rating could help both aspiring teachers and school districts preference certain schools of education over others. Schools of education could improve their programs in order to earn a higher rating and a more selective applicant pool. Districts could use a school of education’s rating to make better-informed hiring decisions. Local beginning teachers could enter their classrooms more prepared to improve student achievement. But outside of urban areas and elite programs, this review may just be an intellectual argument among deans and policy wonks.