States Faulted For Lax Teacher Standards
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Higher learning standards require better-educated teachers to instruct students, but a new report released by Quality Counts 2000 finds that states are not doing enough to attract good teaching candidates.
"While they (states) set standards for who can enter the profession on the front end, most keep the door cracked open on the back end. As a result, millions of students sit down every day before instructors who do not meet the minimum requirements their states say they should have to teach in a public school," the report says.
The fourth annual 50-state survey is the most comprehensive look at state policies related to beginning teachers. Education Week, the publication that issues Quality Counts with financial support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, based its findings on an 11-page questionnaire completed by state officials. (eds note: Pew Charitable Trusts also funds Stateline.org)
There is general agreement among officials that teachers should have basic literacy skills and knowledge of the subject they teach. But the survey found that 36 of the 39 states that require prospective teachers to pass a basic skills test allow candidates to teach without having passed the exam. The only states that do not require candidates to take a basic skills test are: Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. For more see: http://www.edweek.org/sreports/qc00/tables/testing-t1.htm
Nearly thirty states require high school teachers to pass subject area tests and 39 require that the teacher major or minor in their subjects. The problem is that these requirements can be waived to keep teachers in classrooms. New Jersey is the only state that won't waive the requirements.
A number of licensed teachers have to teach classes that are "out of their field." There are only 22 states where districts can be penalized for having teachers teach out of field and only Florida forces schools to tell parents if their student is being taught by a teacher not licensed in the subject area.
Moving on to middle schools, the problem grows worse. There are only 17 states that expect middle school teachers to get licensed in their subject.
"Emergency credentials and out-of-field teaching should be eliminated," said American Federation of Teachers (www.aft.org) President Sandra Feldman, "Districts could offer incentives to credentialed teachers to take on additional courses in their field, or entice qualified veteran teachers to stay in the classroom longer." A shrinking teacher pool has forced states to woo teaching candidates at the same time they have to close loopholes that helped them fill teaching posts in the past.
A federal study that followed college graduates into the workplace found that nearly half of the 1992-93 graduates who prepared to teach never worked in a K-12 public school. Those who did left the field at a rate of one in five within three years.
Teaching was the chosen profession by less academically able students. Candidates were less likely to have scored in the top quarter on the college entrance exams than their peers entering other professions. Those that did score highly left teaching at a quicker rate than others.
States have been trying a variety of programs to draw people into teaching. Education Week found that 27 states offer teaching scholarships or forgivable loans. But only 11 states have programs whose aim is to draw high-performing students into the profession.
Massachusetts is the only state so far that offers a signing bonus to new teachers. Last year the Bay State launched a program offering a $20,000 bonus over four years to teachers willing to work in urban schools.
About half the states are providing induction programs for new teachers to help ease them into the profession and their schools. Still, very few mandate the programs.
But Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina are requiring that novice teachers be evaluated by their principals and a team of people from outside their school.
"When districts face a shortage of teachers, they routinely disregard even minimal standards for entry into the profession, and the problem is likely to get worse," Feldman said. "Many qualified teachers are leaving the profession either to retire or for jobs with better pay and more prestige."