U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued a call to states to radically transform the teacher certification system by raising standards and lowering bureaucratic barriers that keep many highly qualified candidates from pursuing teaching careers.
The Secretary’s Annual Report on Teacher Quality: Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge, issued last week at the first annual Teacher Quality Evaluation Conference, found that most state teacher certification exams are much too easy to ensure content knowledge. At the same time, most states require teaching candidates to take a full course load of education classes.
The report highlighted high-quality alternative routes to certification such as Teach for America and the New Teachers Project, Transition to Teaching, and Troops-to-Teachers and encouraged states to use them as models to dramatically streamline certification. These programs recruit talented college graduates and seasoned professionals from other fields and simplify their entry into the classroom. They also provide structured support for these new teachers through mentoring and other professional development. The U.S. Department of Education hopes that eliminating burdensome certification requirements will encourage more high-quality candidates to enter the field and enable states to meet the requirements of the new No Child Left Behind Act.
Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed with many of the reports recommendations, but called for more support for teachers: “They need quality hands-on experience and access to ongoing professional development and support. . . . More resources must be available to improve teacher education programs and to attract the most qualified people to the teaching profession.” National Education Association President Bob Chase was less enthusiastic in his reaction to the report: “Claims that inexperienced college grads can be as successful as formally trained teachers are insulting and demeaning to qualified members of the teaching profession.”
The report found startling statistics on the training of U.S. teachers. Only 41 percent of eighth-grade math teachers studied math in school-30 percentage points lower than the international average. In English, teachers who did not have at least a minor in English literature, communications, or journalism teach one-fifth of all public school students in grades seven through 12. In history and physical science, teachers who have never studied the subject in any concentrated way teach more than half of America’s students.
In a recent article for the History News Network, Diane Ravitch discusses the results of the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress in U.S. history and ties poor performance by high school seniors in part to low-quality teachers. Ravitch notes that “history and physics are the two fields in which a majority of teachers are ‘out-of-field.'” She concludes by asking that states insist that teachers of U.S. history “be expected to demonstrate their knowledge . . .by taking and passing a subject-matter test no less rigorous than the one that the students must take to graduate from high school.”
|U.S. Department of Education Issues Draft Guidance for new $2.85 Billion Teacher Quality Grants Program
The U.S. Department of Education recently issued its draft guidance to provide assistance to state and local program administrators as they implement the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program to meet the new law’s requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom by the 2005-2006 school year. “Highly qualified” means that the teacher:
These requirements will be imposed this fall on all new elementary school teachers. New middle and high school teachers must meet these requirements and pass subject-matter tests or have the equivalent of an undergraduate major, graduate degree, or advanced certification in their field.
The new teacher quality grant program, Title II, Part A, replaces the focus on professional development for math and science in favor of support for teacher professional development across all core academic subjects. It focuses on preparing, training, and recruiting high-quality teachers and principals and can be used in some instances to fund teacher bonuses, preparation, induction, support, and ongoing development. A number of well-designed studies indicate that teacher quality has a powerful effect on student academic achievement: Sanders and Rivers (1996) found that children assigned to three effective teachers in a row scored at the 83 percentile in math at the end of fifth grade, while children assigned to three ineffective teachers in a row scored at the 29th percentile.
According to the department, the guidance should be “viewed as a living document that will be modified as needed.” Secretary Paige’s press release (contains link to complete draft guidance).
Non-Traditional Methods Used to Attract Highly Qualified Teachers
The No Child Left Behind requirement that all newly hired teachers be highly qualified will force educators and community leaders to come up with creative solutions to recruiting and retaining skilled individuals who want to teach. According to the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Independent School District needs to fill at least 450 teacher vacancies and is turning to five surrounding states for applicants. Earlier this month, the district began a media blitz in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas urging certified teachers to move to Dallas.
In an article for the L.A. Times, Jenifer Ragland writes that California is turning to its many laid-off tech employees to fill teacher shortages in math and science. With help from a $1.6 million state grant, California hired about 200 former high-tech employees. The grant money will help participants pay for tuition, books, testing fees and other services needed to obtain certification. Many participants teach under an internship program while attending certification classes at night.
|Teach for America: Providing Low-Income Students with High-Quality Teachers
Teach for America (TFA) corps members are outstanding and diverse (last year, 38 percent of corps members were people of color) recent college graduates of all academic majors who commit to teach two years in urban and rural public schools in low-income communities. This fall, TFA will place more than 1,700 corps members from an applicant pool of more than 14,000, the largest number in the organization’s history. In 2002, seven percent of the graduating seniors at Yale University and 14 percent of Spelman College seniors applied to Teach For America. Schools that yielded the largest number of Teach for America corps members included: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Virginia, Northwestern University, University of California-Berkley, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Emory University , and University of Texas-Austin.
Since 1990, the organization has placed 8,000 corps members in 16 urban and rural areas, and these teachers in turn have taught more than 1 million children.