Montana Schools Should Heed Criticism

Several weeks ago, a small and barely noticeable report buried in the middle section of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle revealed that Montana has received “failing grades” from the National Council on Teacher Quality in two consecutive reports. The National Council’s report evaluates the condition of each state’s retention of effective teachers, teacher preparation programs and teacher quality standards.

The Council presents areas that it considers to merit “critical attention” from state officials and schools. The only area in which Montana did not receive a failing grade from the report was the category regarding the retention of effective teachers.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction has protested the report’s assertions and questioned its accuracy and methodology, claiming that the quality of Montana’s students reflects the quality of its teachers.

For what reason does the Office of Public Instruction think it should be immune to the constructive criticism offered by this report? The report itself, which can be accessed by the public, does not directly state that Montana’s teachers are substandard — as most graduates of Bozeman Public Schools can substantiate, the majority of Bozeman’s teachers meet the highest of expectations and quality standards.

The National Council report instead addresses, among other things, Montana’s shockingly substandard methods of evaluating teacher performance and assuring the high potential of graduates from teacher preparation programs.

Montana’s universities have little to no requirements for students desiring to enter into teacher education programs. Many would consider this to be a fair approach, as many university students who performed at a mediocre level in high school excel upon commencing their college education.

A majority of programs and departments offered by the university system do not ask for entrance exams nor specific requirements, instead depending upon gate systems that eliminate a portion of the initial class size according to achievement and work quality. This ensures that programs such as graphic design — which eventually eliminates a substantial portion of its entrance class — produce high-quality graduates.

The competitive nature of the gate system should be applied to teacher preparation programs in Montana. The only current requirements for students wishing to enter the upper level of MSU’s teacher education program are a 2.5 GPA, advisor approval and a record clean of specific criminal offenses. The Praxis II exam is additionally required for official licensure.

It is surprising that such low-quality expectations for entrance into the teaching community have been virtually ignored. By maintaining these deficient standards, education programs are enhancing the unfortunate and unjust reputation assigned to teachers and educators. Other “critical attention” areas — for example, the fact that Montana does not require teachers to complete proficiency tests in their subjects — might not be as critical if education departments required students to have more than a C average.