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Published in Print: November 17, 1999, as Fordham Issues Low Grades To States on Teacher Quality

Fordham Issues Low Grades To States on Teacher Quality

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State policymakers throughout the country deserve low marks for their efforts to raise teacher quality, according to a report card to be issued this week by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

For More Information

"The Quest for Better Teachers: Grading the States," is available from the Fordham Foundation, online at:
www.edexcellence.net/better/quest/tqfbt. htm.

The Washington-based research organization, which supports deregulation and market-driven school improvement efforts, gives the United States as a whole a D-plus in its report, "The Quest for Better Teachers: Grading the States."

The low score largely reflects the failure of states both to reduce bureaucratic barriers to becoming a teacher and to give school administrators greater authority in hiring and firing staff members.

"Most states are beginning to get serious about boosting the quality of their teaching force," the foreword to the report says. "Unfortunately, most of the steps they are taking point in the wrong direction."

The foundation first spelled out the philosophy behind the report in April, when it released what it termed a "manifesto" on teacher quality. ("Deregulation Urged To Enrich Teacher Corps," April 28, 1999.)

Little Autonomy

The manifesto stressed the importance of subject-matter knowledge over pedagogy, urged that teachers be evaluated on the basis of student performance, and recommended that personnel decisions be delegated to the school level.

The new report card gives grades to each state based on how well it reflects those approaches.

Though not in the report itself, the data showing exactly how each state’s grade was scored will be posted online, foundation officials said.

While many states scored well for their use of subject-matter tests to screen new teachers, few states demonstrated efforts to shift personnel decisions to the school level, according to the authors. The study also found 10 states that do not perform criminal-background checks on prospective teachers.

The grading system also favored states that had implemented school choice programs, such as vouchers and charter schools, which Fordham considers an important element of school accountability.

Along with the letter grades, the 50-page report ranks states from best to worst and includes short descriptions of each one’s policy agenda.

Among the few states with high marks were Texas, California, and Florida. Although implementing a "popular but ill-conceived class-size-reduction program," California scored well for requiring its teachers to complete academic majors and for supporting a growing crop of charter schools, the report says. Texas got the highest overall grade for its accountability system of rewards and sanctions, its alternative routes for teacher certification, and for considering student performance in teacher evaluation.

Near the other end of the curve were Wisconsin, which earned a D-minus, and Ohio, which scored a D-plus. Both were criticized as having created bureaucratic "hoops and hurdles" that prospective teachers must go through to be licensed.

In Wisconsin, the authors complain, "even high school teachers must take lots of professional-education coursework."

Not Just ‘Contrarian’

Arguing that it offers a "common-sense strategy," Fordham’s report explicitly pits its recommendations against those of the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future. The national commission, which believes teachers need specialized training in education as well as subject mastery, supports "a centralized, command-and-control strategy," the new report says. The commission’s strategy is destined to keep talented people out of teaching and exacerbate teacher shortages, Fordham contends.

"Our role is not simply to be contrarian," said Chester E. Finn Jr., the foundation’s president. "It’s to offer a responsible critique and a credible alternative."

But Barnett Berry, who directs policy and state partnerships for the commission, said he was worried that the policies promoted in the Fordham report would put more ineffective teachers in the nation’s classrooms. "If you ask any parent, they’ll say they want their kids taught by teachers who know their subjects, but who also know how children learn," he said.

Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 8

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