Minnesota Colleges Ordered to Turn Over Syllabi for Teaching Programs

Kelsey Sheehy

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities must provide copies of course syllabi requested by a Washington-based education group under the state's open-records law, a Minnesota district judge ruled on Wednesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy organization, sued the state's colleges and universities for refusing to fulfill an open-records request seeking information on teacher training programs. The request asked for course syllabi, as well as documents relating to the organization and evaluation of student teaching assignments within each program.

[Read more about improving student teaching.]

Officials from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system submitted most of the documents requested prior to the lawsuit, but declined to provide course syllabi, citing intellectual property rights. Researchers from NCTQ could view the syllabi, but not copy them, officials from the university system said.

But a judge disagreed, noting faculty members created the documents as part of their teaching duties. Since state colleges and universities are funded by the public, the documents are government data and available under the fair use provision of the Federal Copyright Act, which grants access to government data for research purposes, the judge ruled.

"Any way this case is analyzed, NCTQ is entitled to the syllabi copies it seeks," the judge wrote.

NCTQ requested documents from teacher preparation programs at 1,139 public and private institutions and sent open-record requests to 435 public schools that declined to submit the materials. The majority of those open-record requests have been fulfilled, according to Arthur McKee, managing director of teacher preparation studies at NCTQ.

State university systems in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri refused to comply with the records requests. While the case in Minnesota is now resolved, NCTQ is still in legal negotiations with the University of Wisconsin system and filed a lawsuit last month against the University of Missouri school system.

The organization plans to use the information collected, as well as course catalogs and information about admissions and program requirements, to create a national ranking of the programs.

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"The more information that aspiring teachers, district and school leaders, teacher educators and the public at large have about the programs producing classroom-ready teachers, the better all teacher training programs will be," McKee said yesterday in a post on the organization's website.

U.S. News has been working with NCTQ to develop the methodology and publishing strategies for top teacher preparation programs, which are expected to be available in the spring of 2013.

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