Fresno State's teacher preparation program received the worst possible rating on a report released Tuesday that evaluated more than 1,100 teacher training institutions.
The long-anticipated survey from the National Council on Teacher Quality is a biting review of how universities equip fledgling teachers for work in the classroom.
Only 9% of programs made the NCTQ's "honor roll," earning at least three stars on the survey's four-star grading system. Of those, many aren't known for an impressive academic reputation or ranked on other popular national lists — which was one reason the survey quickly drew criticism from academics around the country.
California State University, Fresno's program was among 163 that received zero stars and a "consumer alert" rating, warning potential students to look elsewhere for their education.
But Fresno State officials responded that the study's motivations and methodology were flawed and did not accurately reflect their program.
The review from NCTQ, an education advocacy group, looked at whether programs provide student teaching opportunities, how well they teach Common Core standards and prepare future teachers to manage classroom learning. According to its findings, few schools accomplish those goals.
The study, which took eight years to complete, says it's simply too easy to get into teacher preparation programs — and schools aren't adequately training soon-to-be educators once they're enrolled. Some 239,000 teachers are trained each year and only 98,000 are hired — meaning too many students are admitted and only a fraction find work.
And the problems run deep, the survey argues. Many programs avoid using a specific training curriculum, the survey says, opting instead to help students develop their own teaching philosophies.
"We step outside the topics addressed by our standards to suggest a broader explanation for our findings: There is a serious and profound problem with teacher preparation programs' perception of their mission, one that is handicapping the field's capacity to produce effective teachers," the study's authors wrote.
"You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools," said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement. "If policymakers took this report seriously, they'd be shutting down hundreds of programs."
But Fresno State didn't score poorly in all the study's categories. For example, the school received four stars for preparing teachers to instruct English-language learners.
Even so, the study is already rustling the feathers of many higher education administrators, who criticize its methodology and argue the research group has a political agenda.
Only 114 institutions cooperated with the review. About 700 institutions objected in letters to the council's partner, U.S. News & World Report, over the group's methodology.
Linda Darling-Hammond, chairwoman of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, published a scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post Tuesday, arguing the survey relied heavily on published syllabi and course requirements instead of student outcomes and the quality of instruction.
In some cases, she said, data in the survey is false.
"California State University at Chico was rated poorly for presumably lacking 'hands-on' instruction, even though it is well-known in the state for its hands-on learning lab," she wrote.
Fresno State education faculty also weren't happy with the study's methods.
Glenn DeVoogd, chair of Fresno State's Department of Literacy and Early Education, said no one from NCTQ actually visited the school to collect data.
"That's how poorly the report was done," he said.
James Marshall, associate dean of Fresno State's Kremen School of Education and Human Development, said that's one reason why the California State University system only handed over documents to NCTQ after the organization submitted a formal public records request.
"Like almost all other public education institutions in the nation, the California State University system, including Fresno State, expressed concerns about NCTQ's methodology and political agenda," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, firstname.lastname@example.org or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.