Accountability and Pre-Service Teachers

BECAUSE OF the current difficulties in removing practicing teachers from the classroom, supporters of accountability are also turning their attention towards nipping the problem in the bud by guaranteeing that new teachers are well qualified before they step foot in the classroom. According to the National Center for Education Statistics report, The Condition of Education 1999, between 1987 and 1993 the percentage of school districts requiring new teachers to pass a test based on their subject of expertise increased from 23.5% to 39.3%. Similarly, the percentage of districts requiring teachers to pass a test of basic skills increased from 34.9% to 49%, and requirements for passing the standardized National Teachers Examinations (NTE) rose from 21.4% to 30.8%. District-based testing of teachers remains relatively rare, with only 2% of districts reporting it in 1993, down from 2.6% in 1987.

As states try to raise the quality of new teachers, they must also deal with the fact that qualified teachers are becoming harder to come by. Because half of all of today's teachers are expected to retire in the next ten years, as many as two million new teachers will have to be hired. Some states have instituted emergency measures to combat local shortages, employing new teachers before they become certified or hiring people who do not have a degree in education. Others have begun recruiting college graduates from overseas.

Even if new educators are graduates from teaching colleges, there is still no guarantee that they are prepared for the classroom. One common complaint is that teaching colleges often concentrate on the art of teaching at the expense of developing teachers' content knowledge. Forty-four states require teachers to pass pedagogy tests, but only 21 require content tests. A 1996 report from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future found that one out of four new teachers are not qualified to teach the subject for which they have been hired. "States pay more attention to the qualifications of veterinarians treating the nation's cats and dogs than to those of teachers educating the nation's children and youth," they stated in their report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. The report also found that

Fewer than half the nation's 1,200 teacher's colleges meet professional standards of accreditation.

In recent years, more than 50,000 teachers who lack training for their jobs have entered teaching annually on emergency or substandard certification.

More than 40 states allow school districts to hire teachers who have not met basic education requirements and more than 12 percent of new teachers nationwide begin with no training at all.

28 percent of U.S. teachers have neither a college major nor minor in the subject they teach.

Among its recommendations, the report supported setting strict accountability and licensing standards for teachers and education schools, reformulate teachers' education to include a year-long internship and increase financial rewards for good teachers.

States have begun to crack down on weeding out unqualified prospective teachers, but often the severe teacher shortages gets in the way of maintaining their newly set standards. In Pennsylvania, prospective teachers are expected to maintain a B average in liberal arts courses before they can be admitted to a teacher training program and a B in the subject they wish to teach, though some colleges continue to admit pre-service teachers with a C-minus average. In Texas, 70 percent of each teaching college's graduating class must pass the state certification exam in order for the college to avoid probation, yet 35 of the state's 86 teaching colleges have flunked since the requirement was introduced. A similar program was instituted in New York this year; if it had been in effect during the 1997-1998 school year, almost 25 percent of the state's 113 teacher programs would have lost accreditation.

Perhaps the more notorious example of new teachers failing to make the grade occured last year in Massachusetts, where the majority of 1,795 pre-service educators tested (59%) failed the state standardized test. The state education agency responded by lowering the overall score required to pass the test so that only 44% failed. The uproar caused by this decision soon forced the state to reverse their decision. An independent review of the original test published in the Education Policy Analysis Archives concluded that the test was poorly conceived and was an inappropriate method of assessing teacher skills. The review, Less Truth Than Error? An Independent Study of the Massachusetts Teacher Tests, recommended that the state of Massachusetts immediately suspend the testing of pre-service teachers. As this evidence would suggest, as education reformers attempt to improve the way student skills are assesed, it is of paramount importance to improve the way teachers' skills are assessed.

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