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State Chiefs Offer Plan To Improve Teacher Quality

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An ad hoc committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers will recommend that states raise the standards for entry into teacher-training programs in an effort to reduce the supply of new teachers, drive up salaries, and thus attract higher-caliber teachers into the profession.

The committee concluded that moves by many states in recent years to require teacher candidates to pass basic-skills tests have failed to improve the quality of students entering the profession because passing scores have been set too low.

Quality of Teachers

To counteract that situation, the four-member panel, which was formed to study ways of improving the quality of teachers, recommends in a draft report that state education departments raise minimum-competency standards for entry into teacher-education programs and shun the common practice of setting lower standards "by consensus" in order to get them approved or to maintain a supply of new teachers.

Such a policy would improve the quality of students entering the teaching profession in two ways, the panel's draft report asserts.

First, higher test standards would allow only more academically able students to enter teacher-education programs.

Second, the report contends, higher cutoff scores would sharply reduce the number of college students entering the teaching profession. Thus, school districts, under the principle of supply and demand, would be forced to raise salaries to compete for teachers. These higher salaries, the report implies, would in turn encourage better students to become teachers.

"The biggest problem we face is getting top people into the profession," said Robert G. Scanlon, the secretary of education in Pennsylvania and chairman of the committee. "But in many states, the cutoff scores on the basic-skills tests are 'watered down' to the point where they do nothing to ensure the competency of teacher candidates."

Initial Endorsements

The report, which the full 50-member council is scheduled to consider this summer, attributes the low cutoff scores in many states to the need to win initial endorsements of the skills tests from segments of the education community--some teachers' unions and education schools, for example--that oppose them.

To minimize the "political problems" that may accompany a policy designed to attract better students into the profession by deliberately holding down the supply of new teachers, the report urges states to set these new standards in cooperation with neighboring states.

Such "regional consortiums," as they are called in the report, would, for example, help a state avert an exodus of students to education schools in bordering states that have lower admissions standards.

"It would be difficult for one chief [state school officer] to say he wants to dry up supply to improve quality [of teachers]," said Mr. Scanlon. "But regionally, chiefs may have a better chance of handling the political problems of such a policy."

Civil-rights advocates have been vehemently opposed to the use of basic-skills testing for admissions to teacher-education programs or for certification.

And teacher unions and financially troubled education schools have opposed measures that would reduce enrollment in teacher-training programs.

Thirty-three states have adopted or are considering some form of so-called "competency-based" teacher training that requires teacher candidates to pass a proficiency test in mathematics, writing, and verbal skills.

Additional Proposals

Aside from recommending the upgrading of testing standards and the formation of regional consortiums, the panel made 13 other proposals to improve the quality of teachers. These recommendations cover a range of issues, including recruitment and selection of students for teacher-education programs, the effect of increased social and legal demands on teachers' performance, and competency-based teacher training.

The committee's recommendations were based on the results of a survey, which sought to identify the current condition of teaching and teacher-training in each state, completed by all 50 chief state school officers.

The survey results do not represent a unanimity of opinion among the state education leaders, but rather "a sense of direction," according to Mr. Scanlon. Some chief state school officers, especially those in the Midwest, said they would not push for the use of basic-skills tests in their states, Mr. Scanlon said.

However, responses to the survey suggested that those opposed to the tests were not opposed to them per se.

Rather, Mr. Scanlon said, there was a feeling among some of the state education leaders that raising teacher salaries is the only realistic way of getting better students into the teaching profession.

The report also recommends that state education departments:

Give more attention to teacher-recruitment incentives, such as scholarships for able students who choose education as a career;

Determine which universities in their region are eliminating education schools and why;

Urge federal officials to earmark federal financial aid for top students entering education programs and to commission research on the effect of competency-based teacher educa-tion on teachers' performance and students' achievement;

Conduct regional studies of teacher supply and demand to determine the probable impact of raising education schools' admissions standards;

Develop guidelines for the use of emergency teaching certificates; and

Encourage education schools to form partnerships with elementary and secondary educators.

Committee Make-Up

Established in August 1980, the committee includes, in addition to Mr. Scanlon, Wilson C. Riles, superintendent of public instruction in California; Lynn Simons, state superintendent of public instruction in Wyoming; and Wayne Teague, state superintendent of education in Alabama. Gregory R. Anrig, former commissioner of education in Massachusetts, served on the committee until his appointment as president of the Educational Testing Service last fall.

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