Rig­or­ous test­ing of teach­ers wel­come, and long over­due

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Randi Wein­garten says it’s time to do away with ‘sink or swim’ in the class­room. es­ther­j­cepeda@wash­post.com Join the Con­ver­sa­tion face­book.com/states­man.


ap­plaud the best ed­u­ca­tion re­form pol­icy pro­posed this year: A test — sim­i­lar to a bar exam — for teach­ers.

This sug­ges­tion is fun­da­men­tal, nec­es­sary and over­due. One other word comes to mind to de­scribe my an­swer to ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy ob­servers who are ask­ing whether we should hold teach­ers to rig­or­ous na­tional stan­dards: Duh.

The exam idea was pro­posed by Randi Wein­garten, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, who, in her in­tro­duc­tion to the AFT’s “Rais­ing the Bar” report, laid out the think­ing be­hind what amounts to a seis­mic dis­tur­bance in the world of teacher prepa­ra­tion: “We must do away with a com­mon rite of pas­sage, whereby newly minted teach­ers are tossed the keys to their class­rooms, ex­pected to fig­ure things out, and left to see if they (and their stu­dents) sink or swim.”

I’ll take that a step fur­ther and say that it’s also high time to do away with the com­mon prac­tice of let­ting teach­ers tackle sub­ject ar­eas in which they pos­sess lit­tle for­mal schol­ar­ship. A metic­u­lous weed-out sys­tem and an over­all cul­ture of ex­cel­lence that trick­les down to the in­di­vid­ual school level could help ad­dress this.

In 2011, the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Statis­tics re­leased a report — “Ed­u­ca­tion and Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Quali- fi­ca­tions of De­part­men­tal­ized Pub­lic High School-Level Teach­ers of Core Sub­jects” — which broke down the types of teach­ers in class­rooms based on a 2007-08 schools and staffing sur­vey.

In gen­eral, a ma­jor­ity of teach­ers of the 11 broad sub­ject fields such as lan­guages, sci­ence, and math held both a post­sec­ondary de­gree and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in their main teach­ing as­sign­ments. But what’s sur­pris­ing is just how many don’t.

For in­stance, 25 per­cent of English teach­ers, 34 per­cent of math teach­ers, and 25 per­cent of sci­ence teach­ers were not con­sid­ered highly qual­i­fied.

What’s worse is how many un­der­qual­i­fied teach­ers are con­cen­trated in schools that serve over­whelm­ingly mi­nor­ity stu­dent bod­ies.

In a 2008 report called “CORE PROB­LEMS: Out-ofField Teach­ing Per­sists in Key Aca­demic Cour­ses,” the Ed­u­ca­tion Trust found that “in Amer­ica’s sec­ondary schools, low-in­come stu­dents and stu­dents of color are about twice as likely as other stu­dents to be en­rolled in core aca­demic classes taught by ... teach­ers ... who pos­sess nei­ther cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in the sub­ject they have been as­signed to teach nor an aca­demic ma­jor in that sub­ject.”

As the AFT report notes, “Teach­ing, like other re­spected pro­fes­sions, must have a uni­ver­sal as­sess­ment process for en­try that in­cludes rig­or­ous prepa­ra­tion cen­tered on clin­i­cal prac­tice as well as the­ory, an in-depth test of sub­ject and ped­a­gog­i­cal knowl­edge, and a com­pre­hen­sive teacher per­for­mance as­sess­ment.”

Rigor is the key word here. An­other study — the Na­tional Coun­cil on Teacher Qual­ity’s 2011 report “Stu­dent Teach­ing in the United States” — has shown the weak­ness of many teacher-prepa­ra­tion plans. Three-quar­ters of the 134 ran­domly sam­pled pro­grams the coun­cil eval­u­ated failed to meet five ba­sic stan­dards for a high-qual­ity pro­gram.

The AFT’s pro­posed high stan­dards aim at the heart of what’s re­quired for good teach­ers: Top stu­dents coming out of col­lege with doc­u­mented ex­per­tise in spe­cific sub­ject ar­eas, un­com­pro­mis­ing teacher train­ing, ex­act­ing ex­ams that demon­strate knowl­edge, and strin­gent meth­ods of train­ing and eval­u­at­ing class­room per­for­mance.

Lots of in­ter­ested par­ties will hate this pro­posal. But it sounds a lot like the kind of aca­demic achieve­ment we ex­pect of our suc­cess­ful pub­lic school stu­dents.

An af­ter-school teacher at an Austin ele­men­tary school sparked a con­tro­versy when she told her stu­dents that Santa is not real.

Peter Wil­son: Not the teacher’s fault. Stop ly­ing to your kids.

Mónica Mata: Well, I’m a teacher and I think it’s not in her place to dis­cuss that with her stu­dents. It’s a cul­tural sub­ject, there­fore the par­ents should be the ones dis­cussing that with the child. My son is 12 and still be­lieves (I’ve never even in­cluded Santa Claus in our cel­e­bra­tion — we fo­cus more on the re­li­gious rit­ual/ tra­di­tion) but it’s in­evitable for them to be­lieve since we live in (the) U.S. I still don’t have the heart to tell him not to be­lieve (while other chil­dren at school have told him).

Diana Reid Bar­ron: I also was raised with the opin­ion it was wrong to be­lieve in Santa Claus. One of my other kids let my youngest know Mom was Santa, and even though I ex­plained she could not ruin it for other kids, she felt it was soooo wrong to lie to kids, she did tell oth­ers. Funny, they chose not to be­lieve her.

Robert Quigley: Kids grow up fast enough. Why not let them be­lieve in magic/won­der­ment for a while? I bet this teacher is a lot of fun at par­ties.

Jen­nifer Col­lier: Why does she want to ruin that for them? And sec­ond, it is not her place to be the one to tell them. Get in­volved in the dis­cus­sion about the day’s news on

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