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A Misguided Assessment of NCTQs Classroom Management Report

by Arthur McKee & Hannah Putman - April 18, 2014

On March 23, Teachers College Record published a commentary by Deborah Schussler and Lisa Johnson of the National Council on Teacher Quality's classroom management report. The following is NCTQ's response to the commentary.

In an otherwise negative review of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent report on classroom management training for teachers, A House Built on Sand? Commentary on NCTQ’s Classroom Management Report (2014), we were glad to see Deborah Schussler and Lisa Johnson affirm some of its basic premises. They write that “beginning teachers see classroom management as a primary concern,” and stress the “fundamental importance” of good classroom management.  They note that the teacher plays a vital role in “setting the tone and establishing classroom climate,” and highlight the importance of teachers knowing how to “develop capacities to implement research-based practices to manage a classroom effectively.”

Unfortunately, Schussler and Johnson go astray in their characterization of our report and their insistence on the overriding importance of “context.” Their approach undercuts the notion that teachers need to master key skills and techniques.

Schussler and Johnson take us to task for allegedly “dismissing” the importance of student-teacher and peer-to-peer relationships in classroom management. Far from dismissing it, we write that relationships are “essential” as long as they are founded on the research-based principles. Schussler and Johnson give no clear indication regarding the kind of relationships they want teachers to help build. They cite the work of Bridget Hamre and Robert Pianta (as do we in our report) regarding classroom climate. But the components they identify—organizational climate, instructional climate and emotional climate—clearly go so far beyond classroom management and building relationships that it is hard to see how they would serve as concrete guidance for beginning teachers in this area.

Nor would Schussler and Johnson’s refrains on the crucial importance of “context” provide new teachers with a path forward. Schussler and Johnson tell us that “Effective Schools” research demonstrates that “input x does not always produce outcome y,” that teachers “note differences between schools and even within schools among individual students,” that “teacher education programs function within many contexts, operating under very different requirements and with a variety of external mandates.” What is central, they argue, is “how techniques operate within a particular context.”

Taken together, these caveats would certainly raise serious doubts in new teachers’ minds about whether or not it was worthwhile to master the classroom management techniques that we identify. Why go to the trouble if students and schools vary so greatly that the techniques are likely to fail? Moreover, teacher preparation programs proceeding from this perspective might decide that the Big Five are not worth covering in depth – learned in a lecture but not practiced, or expected in student teaching but never studied in prior coursework. That this patchwork approach to classroom management is exactly what we found in our examination of teacher preparation programs suggests that Schussler and Johnson’s views may be representative.

Obviously context is important, and no set of techniques will invariably produce the same outcomes for all students. However, the wide-ranging research behind the Big Five, which looks at evidence from an array of different contexts, is clear: classrooms where these strategies are implemented are generally better learning environments than those where they are not. For a new teacher, knowing how to implement and adapt these strategies can help them gain traction in their classrooms and promote student learning.

Schussler and Johnson are utterly silent on the disconnect between what new teachers say year after year they need—effective techniques in classroom management—and what teacher preparation programs are doing to equip them. If our analysis was systematically flawed, and teacher preparation programs were teaching candidates about the Big Five, or if Schussler and Johnson were right about the importance of building relationships and programs were helping candidates learn about how to do so, would classroom management really be teachers’ primary concern? Rather than spending energy trying to pick out the flaws in our studies, we invite Schussler, Johnson and their like-minded colleagues to work with us to improve the quality of training on which our children’s education ultimately depends.


Schussler, D. L., & Johnson, L. (2014). A house built on sand? Commentary on NCTQ’s classroom management report. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=17475

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 18, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17508, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 9:34:04 AM

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About the Author
  • Arthur McKee
    National Council on Teacher Quality
    E-mail Author
    ARTHUR MCKEE is the Managing Director of Teacher Preparation Studies at NCTQ. He joined NCTQ in January 2011 to head up its national review of education schools. From 2000 to 2010, Arthur worked at CityBridge Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to creating and sustaining great public schools in Washington DC. While there, he oversaw the foundation's Early Years Education Initiative, an $8M, five-year effort to expand high-quality early childhood education services in the nation's capital. Arthur received his AB in history from Princeton, and a Ph.D. in Russian history from U.C. Berkeley.
  • Hannah Putman
    National Council on Teacher Quality
    E-mail Author
    HANNA PUTMAN is a Research Manager for Teacher Preparation Studies. She comes to NCTQ following four years conducting education research with Westat, a social science research company. Her projects included work on informal science education and teacher incentive programs. Prior to Westat, Hannah taught seventh and ninth grade English for three years in the Bronx, New York, as a Teach For America corps member. Hannah holds BA's in English and Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, an MS in Teaching from Pace University, and an MPP from the George Washington University with a focus on education policy and evaluation.
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