Want To Improve Teacher Training?  Stop Playing Games With Teacher Standards

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/02/24/want-to-improve-teacher-training-stop-playing-games-with-teacher-standards/

Two U.S. senators plan to revise the federal Higher Education Act to make it ready for re-authorization. Should we find that reassuring?

The senators, Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patti Murray (D-Washington), don’t tell us who will be writing or paying for the drafting of this mammoth bill — just as they didn’t tell us who wrote or paid for the 1,000-page re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

That newer law is best known as Every Student Succeeds Act, which Senators Alexander and Murray co-sponsored, making sure it got a unanimous vote in Congress in December 2015. The Every Student Succeeds Act dangled Title I federal money to state boards and departments of education eager to draft four-year education plans for their state without the approval of parents, state legislators, local school boards, or even the governor of the state. The only approval required by the new law for a four-year “state plan” was from the United States Department of Education — and that was likely necessary according to whoever authored and paid for the new law in order to ensure that all states were locked into Common Core-compliant standards and tests, no matter what they were called.

I do have several suggestions about the Higher Education Act for Senators Alexander and Murray, knowing full-well they will get no more attention than was accorded comments from parents of school children for the Every Student Succeeds Act:

1.  They could eliminate the Title II provision (added in the Clinton era re-authorization, in 1998) for annual reports on how many teachers or administrators per education school pass licensure tests for working in a K-12 school. Because of the games played by many education schools about who was or was not a “program completer,” no clear information was ever obtained from these annual reports.  Almost all prospective educators in most states still pass their licensure tests. So how high a standard could they be?

2.  They could also offer states a pot of money for working out a “path” to licensure that provides an alternate and better test of a prospective teacher’s academic knowledge than current subject area licensure tests do. No one seems to care that mastery of the subject a teacher teaches is the only research-based characteristic of an effective teacher. But teachers cannot teach what they do not know! And few tests for aspiring K-8 teachers assess well their command of the “field” of the license they seek.

3.  They could offer states a pot of money for requiring that all prospective K-12 teachers have a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree in a subject taught in grades 3-12 and in a discipline taught via both upper level and lower level undergraduate courses. Upper level undergraduate courses may be marked for those who major in the discipline, to be taken in the junior or senior year. Lower level undergraduate coursework may consist of survey courses or courses marked as appropriate for non-majors or for freshmen or sophomores.

4.  They could also require every academic department that allows students to major in its subject to create its own subject knowledge test for all graduating seniors, including prospective teachers. These tests must assess academic knowledge, not rules and regulations governing a teaching position in a school system.  And they must by law be approved by state boards of education if these tests are used for qualifying prospective teachers. Such a test would show whether students actually learned their subject as opposed to just showing up for classes and handing in papers.

5.  For certification from an undergraduate or graduate education leadership program, a re-authorized Higher Education Act could require all prospective K-12 school administrators to have a master’s degree in a subject area taught in K-12. Such a requirement would academically upgrade those who become school administrators and ensure their familiarity with at least one discipline in a K-12 curriculum.


Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.