Teacher preparation programs in the nation and Maryland are part of "an industry of mediocrity" that is failing to give young teachers the skills to succeed in the classroom, according to a long-awaited report by a national research advocacy group.

The National Council on Teacher Quality released today the first comprehensive ranking of 608 teacher preparation programs across the nation. The report was based on criteria that included whether the colleges prepared teachers to manage a classroom and teach reading and gave their undergraduate or graduate students high-quality, hands-on experience before they graduated.

Two of the highest-profile teacher preparation programs in the state — Towson University and the Johns Hopkins University — received low rankings on a scale of one to four stars. Towson's undergraduate program earned 11/2 stars and Hopkins' graduate elementary and secondary education programs garnered two stars and 11/2 stars, respectively.

The University of Maryland, College Park's and McDaniel College's programs had the highest rankings. Maryland received three stars for its undergraduate programs; its graduate programs received two and 21/2 stars. McDaniel received three stars for its undergraduate elementary program. Across the nation, only four colleges received four stars: Furman, Lipscomb, Vanderbilt and Ohio State universities.

The council, whose executive director, Kate Walsh, is a former Maryland state school board member, hopes the report will lead to reform in teacher education programs through consumer choice.

"The idea is to drive business away from poorly performing programs and to good programs," Walsh said. "Federal and state efforts have been utterly ineffective at addressing issues in the field [of teacher preparation]. ... Informed consumers are going to prove much more powerful than anything policymakers choose to do."

In addition, she said, she hopes school districts will use the information as one factor in hiring new teachers.

Education reformers have been critical of teacher preparation programs for many years, and the American Federation of Teachers, a major union representing most teachers in Maryland, issued a statement saying that while it agreed on the need to improve teacher preparation programs, it believes the council's approach is unproductive. The union is calling for a "rigorous entry assessment, or bar-like exam," that focuses on subject knowledge and a demonstration of teaching performance.

Other rankings in the report included one or 11/2 stars for Bowie State, Frostburg, Mount St. Mary's and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Morgan State's undergraduate elementary program received one star, while its secondary program received 21/2 stars.

The council spent years developing criteria to judge the college and university programs, and a number of public and private programs declined to participate in what the council plans to make an annual ranking. A number of universities took legal action to try to block the advocacy group from continuing the project and many private colleges refused to hand over information about their programs.

Some Maryland colleges swiftly criticized the analysis, including Loyola University Maryland, which issued a statement saying that it had refused to participate.

"We believe the over-generalized conclusions are based on a flawed methodology and questionable research integrity, and as a result the report paints an irresponsibly inaccurate picture of the education quality so many of these exceptional programs consistently uphold," the college said in a statement.

Towson's dean of education, Raymond Lorion, pointed out Tuesday that Towson's program meets the requirements of the Maryland State Department of Education and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

"We strive to make sure all of our students are ready and able to contribute to their chosen professions, including the teaching profession," he said. "We are constantly challenging ourselves to embrace change, face challenges head-on and continue our distinguished history of preparing classroom teachers and education specialists."

But others, such as Hopkins, said they may use the report to try to improve their programs. "We appreciate the significant effort and substantial challenges faced by the NCTQ as it prepared its inaugural version of a new review system. We will take a careful look at their report and use all relevant feedback to improve our programs," David Andrews, Hopkins' school of education dean, said in an email.

UMBC, which received 21/2 stars, had a similar reaction. Lisa Akchin, associate vice president for marketing and communications, said the college would "carefully consider the observations in the NCTQ survey" and was working to learn more about best practices that would strengthen teacher preparation.

Donna L. Wiseman, the dean of College Park's school of education, said the report "will most likely contribute to a national dialogue on improving teacher quality. ...The feedback provided by NCTQ will be carefully reviewed and considered."

Salisbury received 21/2 stars and issued a statement saying that the quality of its program is reflected in its graduates. Nine of the university's alumni were designated teachers of the year in a county in Maryland in 2011, the college said in the statement.

Bowie's provost and vice president for academic affairs, Weldon Jackson, said that the college has exceptionally good internship programs. "The continuing high demand for our graduates is the truest recognition of our success," he said in an email.

The lengthy report noted that teacher prep programs are not giving teachers clear training in how to teach reading, often leaving it up to young teachers to decide the approach they want to use, a mistake that Walsh said was untenable at a time when 30 years of research exists to show which methods work best.