Teaching Teachers

In the education profession, there are two areas of preparation that we would expect to see. The first is the most fundamental of preparation, learning and mastering the concepts that the teacher will be teaching. The second is gaining skill and ease in the process of teaching, or pedagogy. Recent studies have found failings in both areas among university education schools.

Arthur Levine, former President of Columbia’s Teachers College, found in his report “Educating School Teachers” that “more than three out of five teacher education alumni surveyed (62 percent) report that schools of education do not prepare their graduates to cope with the realities of today’s classrooms.”

A survey of Principals included in the same report found that only 54% of Principals believed schools of education sufficiently convey to future teachers “how students learn,” while 72% believed that ed schools produced graduates with “mastery of their subject area,” indicating that more a quarter did not.

The figures above are based on perceptions but more objective data exists as well thanks to a 2008 study from the National Council on Teacher Quality. That inquiry found that no state “requires an adequate exit test to ensure that the teacher candidate knows the mathematics he or she will need” as an elementary educator. The subtext here is that teacher licensing tests do include math sections but can be passed without answering a single math question correctly. Since 2008, the 0-state figure has increased to 1 with an assessment instituted by Massachusetts.

Equally problematic, just 42% of the education schools examined in that study had any elementary mathematics methods course offering. Indeed, elementary mathematics is only a single level and discipline but it is representative of similar problems across the board.

One example of a teacher ill-prepared for her responsibility was in the news recently. Phanna Kem Robishaw failed two English fluency tests while holding four state licenses qualifying her to teach an elementary school curriculum in mainstream, bilingual, and special education settings. Despite the two failures, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided in May that Ms, Robishaw could not be fired by her school.

Even if schools were able to impose widespread layoffs of teachers who do not meet their minimum criteria, we would have a great deal of trouble replacing them. I made the case in an earlier blog post that we are already facing a massive teacher shortage in the US that could reach epic proportions over the next five to ten years.

Of course, the shortcomings in teacher education discussed here are but one aspect of a multi-faceted problem that includes excessive class sizes, poor compensation, parental passivity and a lack of adequate supplies but if we’re going to address poor educational outcomes, this is as good a place to start as any.

Additional Sources: NCTQ