Sunday, December 5, 2021

Read My Lips: It’s All About Teacher Prep Programs

Any parent can tell you that the most important element for fostering student learning is teacher effectiveness. Often this quality is portrayed as an ineffable, almost magical gift. 

This is false. 

While certain personality traits lend themselves to classroom instruction, much of a teacher’s capability depends on the content of teacher preparation programs. 

A new report out from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), “State of the States 2021: Teacher Preparation Policy,” delves into great detail to analyze and rate each state’s teacher prep programs, focusing on the qualifications for being admitted into degree-granting institutions and earning a teaching license, states’ shifting testing regime, efforts to improve clinical practice, and recent initiatives to diversify the teacher workforce.

As we prepare to return to “normal” in-school instruction, analysts Kate Walsh and Hannah Putman write, “our nation has a greater need than ever for teachers who have the skills to address the challenges ahead.” 

Our children deserve access to effectively-trained teachers who have strong content knowledge in their subject area and the “instructional skills to accelerate learning,” especially as the pandemic fades and schools face “the damage done to student learning.” 

We can avoid “compounding some of this damage” by upgrading state policies to “best ensure that new teachers enter the classroom thoroughly prepared to meet their students’ needs.”

But every state is different in its regulatory rigor of overseeing degree-granting programs and teacher certification. While some have exercised admirable oversight, others are lackadaisical at best. 

We can do so much better. 

One example:

There’s nothing more important when a child is learning to read than the teacher’s understanding of the science of literacy

While aspiring teachers in Maryland must pass what NCTQ labels a “sufficient test” that incorporates “systemic phonics,” New York uses a certification exam that is deemed “not a standalone reading test.” 

That’s why Maryland’s page on elementary reading gets a green stripe that says “Meets Goal” while New York gets a red one that says “Does Not Meet Goal.” (The highest rating is “Best Practice.”)

The authors also look at a big increase in programs that address the essential task of diversifying America’s teaching staff. Half of all states now have initiatives to recruit and support teachers of color.

And the report includes a State Teacher Policy Database that lets you dig into a particular state’s practices or compare multiple states side-by-side. 

Putman and Walsh conclude with three recommendations, prefaced with an acknowledgement that with some states that are concerned about teacher shortages, it might seem expedient to lower teacher license requirements, not raise them. They warn against choosing “quantity over quality” and, instead, suggest implementing alternative policies. These include:

  • Raising admissions standards to teacher prep programs.
  • Improving teacher knowledge of effective reading methods.
  • Diversifying the teacher workforce.

Are states ready to up their game by implementing best practices and policies to strengthen teacher preparation programs? No magic will work here, just strong oversight and the political will to do what’s best for our children.

Most states still do not verify that elementary, early childhood, or special education teacher candidates know the most effective methods to teach their future students how to read.

Only 20 states require a test that fully measures elementary candidates’ knowledge of the science of reading.

Only 11 states require such a test of their special education teachers, even though difficulty reading is the primary reason students are assigned to special education.

About half of states (24) expect early childhood teachers to demonstrate their knowledge of emergent literacy, as communicated by licensure tests, state standards, or other state guidance.

Half of states (25) require elementary teachers to pass a content licensure test that separately scores each core area.

Eight states do not require all elementary candidates to take a content knowledge exam.

The number of states that have strengthened their elementary content testing requirements equals the number of states that have backtracked.

While quite a few states have enacted new policies to strengthen clinical practice, the net effect is virtually unchanged since 2015. In total, 16 states now restrict who can mentor a student teacher to classroom teachers who meet some measure of effectiveness.

Laura Waters
Laura Waters was weaned on education and equity issues. Her mom was a social worker and her dad was a social studies teacher in New York City public schools. She can no more get this passion out of her blood than she can her New York accent, even though she has lived in Central Jersey now for over 25 years. She and her husband have four children, and her youngest has multiple disabilities. Laura was on her local school board for 12 years and served nine years as president. She keeps education leaders on their toes at New Jersey Ed Report.

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