Pass or Fail: Teacher Qualifications for Standardized Education
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Teachers are held to a higher standard than other professions – both in the classrooms and in their personal lives. Fair or unfair, it’s just part of the job. When it comes to documented “standards,” it seems like the rules are constantly changing for American educators – but is it for the betterment, or to the detriment, of students?
To get a sense of where teacher qualifications are right now, let’s consider the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and their study of teaching qualifications and other trends among teachers of mathematics, English, and science. According to the NCES report for 2010, only about 80 percent of teachers teaching English or science had majored in their main area of teaching. Only about 70 percent of mathematics teachers had majored in their main assignment, and only 60 percent of these were certified.
Thus, only 42 percent of secondary level math teachers both majored in math and have a certificate to teach it. Although substantially more English and science teachers had at least majored in the subject they taught, it is still somewhat disconcerting that fully one on five English and science teachers had minimal exposure to the material they were attempting to teach. One of the first areas of concern, therefore, is the actual qualifications of teachers. Not only should we be concerned about teachers’ qualifications to teach; we apparently need to look into the degree to which they have mastered the material they are tasked with teaching.
It is also of no small concern that 12 percent of mathematics teachers have neither a teaching qualification nor a math specific qualification in schools in which at least half of the students are African-American. This suggests a racially based disparity.
Before considering the preparation of teachers to teach specific age-groups or subjects, we also need to consider what core aspects of knowledge and core skills teachers should be able to demonstrate to be considered competent.
Because of the importance of standards in the educational setting and the current reliance on state testing, several researchers have concentrated on the importance of accountability strategies.
Mathison and Freeman, for instance, discuss some of the current accountability strategies for school reform relying heavily on measured outcomes and especially student achievement linked to specific levels of performance. Their discussion also addresses research on elementary and middle school competencies targeting classroom experiences and involving conversations with teachers.
The results of these extended studies point to a tension between teachers’ desire to be professional, on the one hand, and their desire to give students the best chance to succeed within standardized testing scenarios, on the other.
Their research also suggests that the centralized curriculum mandates and high-stakes testing scenarios force teachers to act in ways that they consider to be lacking in integrity. Teachers feel that some of their actions, designed to support student success in examinations, do not fit within the scope of what they consider to be professionally ethical or reasonable.
Aaronsohn goes so far as to suggest the removal of grades from teaching all together. She suggests this as a means of overcoming the notion of “teacher-pleasing” among students and teaching for memorization. Aaronsohn outlines efforts to investigate student perceptions discussing the extent to which students indicated that they tended to focus on “figuring out the right answers and the correct behaviors each teacher required of them for them to get top grades or, at best, merely survive each class session.”
In a national study examining effective literacy teaching practices in early school years in Australia, researchers found that students with learning difficulties in literacy and numeracy benefited from certain teaching patterns that could well be transferable to different learning scenarios. In considering the problems of teaching literacy and numeracy, however, the study also outlined some of the underlining struggles in education, in teaching specifically.
The National Reading Panel of 2000 in the United States has also had some impact on Australian models. The Australian study mentioned concentrates on building an evidential link between children’s development in English literacy in early school years and their teachers’ classroom teaching practices. Specifically, the study showed that value-added analysis of student assessments showed teachers pushing six dimensions of literacy in their teaching practice: participation, knowledge, orchestration, support, differentiation, and respect.