A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality finds that compared to other college majors, grading standards for students in teacher preparation programs are a whole lot easier. According to NCTQ authors:

Using evidence from more than 500 higher education institutions that turn out nearly half of the nation’s new teachers each year, we find that in a majority of institutions (58 percent), grading standards for teacher candidates are much lower than for students in other majors on the same campus.

Second, we find a strong link between high grades and a lack of rigorous coursework, with the primary cause being assignments that fail to develop the critical skills and knowledge every new teacher needs.

Prospective teachers are almost half again as likely as students in other majors to graduate with grade-based honors.  While 30 percent of all graduating students at the 509 institutions earn honors, 44 percent of teacher candidates receive this distinction — a substantial 14 point differential.

A closer look at the coursework prospective teachers takes helps explain why this is so. Compared to other majors where students are expected to apply knowledge and skills to meet specified objectives through criterion-referenced assignments, teaching candidates are more than twice as likely to have what the NCTQ calls criterion-deficit assignments, namely coursework that does refer to any objective standard.

As US News & World Report’s Allie Bidwell reports:

"You’re not doing anyone any favors … by handing out meaningless A's that send a signal that says you’re prepared, and you get into a real classroom and it’s like hitting a brick wall," says Kate Walsh, president of the council. "Every piece of evidence points to the fact that teachers aren't getting prepared adequately to enter the classroom, by and large." …

One way to ensure better outcomes, Walsh says, is to have administrators and faculty involved in teacher preparation programs come together to define a common set of expectations for excellence within a program – in other words, what type of work constitutes an A and what constitutes a C. 

"The truth of the matter is the prevalence of these criterion-deficient assignments are really a result of a field that has yet to embrace there are certain strategies and techniques and knowledge and skills that work better than others," Walsh says. "The field is still very much of the mindset that whatever you want to teach about anything is fine, that the teacher preparation candidates will decide on their own how to teach."

There are better ways to get well prepared teachers into the classroom. Raising admissions standards would help ensure better qualified candidates enter teacher preparation programs to begin with. Instructors should have extensive and recent classroom experience, and teaching candidates should have rigorous practical classroom training with expert teaching mentors. Finally, schools of education should not be the primary providers of teacher training programs. With a near monopoly, they have little reason to ensure that their teaching graduates are well prepared or effective in the classroom. Teach for America, for example, provides excellent training and mentorships, and gets great results. Alternative programs such as TFA should be encouraged and allowed to compete with schools of education to improve the overall quality of the American teaching force.