Teacher quality group sues UM for course outlines in education

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 6:15 p.m. CDT; updated 10:04 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — A Washington-based education group sued the University of Missouri System on Monday over its refusal to provide records related to teacher training at the university system's four campuses.

The National Council on Teacher Quality filed the civil complaint in the Circuit Court for Boone County. The research and advocacy group said the university system has refused to turn over course syllabi, which it claims are public records. The group wants the course material as part of its efforts to monitor what aspiring teachers learn at college. A joint study with U.S. News & World Report is expected to be released next year, rating schools with letter grades from A to F.

"Right now, on aggregate, teacher preparation programs are not helping teachers get better," said Arthur McKee, the council's managing director of teacher preparation studies. "We do have an agenda — of wanting teacher preparation to be excellent. We don't shy away from the fact that we have higher standards."

Officials in the College of Education at the Columbia campus as well as with the system administration did not respond to several requests for comment Monday. But like other schools that object to the records request — the council has filed similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Wisconsin — Missouri considers a course syllabus to be intellectual property. An associate education dean previously told the Columbia Missourian that the school "needed to make sure our faculty were protected."

Those who train teachers also criticize the council's research methods. In a Feb. 23, 2011, letter to the council, 14 university presidents from Missouri declined to participate in what they called "ill-conceived 'research'" conducted "in a coercive way from outside the profession."

The leaders of Westminster College, Lindenwood University, Missouri Southern State University and the University of Central Missouri were among those who shared their objections.

Such resistance has led the teacher quality council to seek course outlines in more roundabout ways, such as buying syllabi from former students contacted through classified ads in campus newspapers.

McKee said the council has settled another Cole County legal complaint against Lincoln University filed in June after the Jefferson City school initially provided limited course materials at what the group considered an excessive cost.

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