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Published in Print: June 19, 2002, as Paige Uses Report As a Rallying Cry To Fix Teacher Ed.

Paige Uses Report As a Rallying Cry To Fix Teacher Ed.

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Secretary of Education Rod Paige urged the states last week to revamp the way they certify teachers for the classroom, by setting higher standards for knowledge of the subjects they teach and requiring less preparation in teaching methods.

Mr. Paige's call to action came as he released a report on the state of teacher quality nationwide, which calls the existing system for preparing and certifying new teachers "broken" and incapable of producing the numbers of highly qualified teachers the nation needs.

"Many schools of education have continued business as usual, focusing heavily on pedagogy, how to be a teacher, when the evidence cries out that what future teachers need most is a deeper understanding of the subject they'll be teaching, of how to monitor student progress, and how to help students who are falling behind," Mr. Paige told hundreds of state, school district, and higher education officials gathered here for a Department of Education conference on teacher-quality evaluation.

The new report goes to Congress as required under the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which also set up a reporting system to shine a light on the quality of teacher-preparation programs and their graduates.

Under the reporting system required by Title II of the HEA, all colleges receiving federal aid must detail the passing rates of their students on certification tests, along with other information about their programs. The states must report the number of teachers with certification waivers, the requirements for certification, and how their teacher-preparation programs rank in comparison with one another. ("Online Report Cards for Teacher Programs Draw Heavy Response," Jan. 9, 2002.)

The Challenges Ahead

The Education Department's report concludes that academic standards for teachers are low. It cites, for example, the fact that of 29 states using the same test of reading knowledge, only Virginia set its passing score near the national average.

In addition, the report says that:

  • While 45 states have set up alternative routes into the profession, many do not allow prospective teachers to skip "burdensome" education courses or student teaching.
  • Only 23 states have put into effect teacher standards tied to their academic standards for students.
  • Nationally, 6 percent of teachers lack certification, with the proportion higher in schools where most of the children are poor.

In his speech, Secretary Paige said that picture did not bode well for meeting the teacher requirements of the Bush administration's centerpiece education initiative, the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

The law, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education act, mandates that starting this coming fall, all new teachers in Title I programs receiving federal compensatory money must be certified and demonstrate subject-matter competence. The act extends those standards to all teachers of core academic subjects in all schools by 2005-06.

Making the task of finding enough strong teachers all the more daunting are demographic factors, such as more students and increased retirements among the baby boom generation teachers now occupying many classrooms.

To meet the need, Mr. Paige said, states should embrace higher standards and promote alternative routes into teaching, such as Teach For America, a program that recruits mostly liberal-arts graduates who have not taken teacher education courses to teach in urban and rural schools.

"We must tear down barriers preventing talented men and women from entering the teaching profession," the secretary argued, citing research that verbal ability and subject-matter mastery are the only two "measurable" qualities of first-rate teachers.

'Insult to the Profession'

But representatives of teachers and teacher-preparation programs last week hotly disputed that research and decried the Education Department's "streamlining" approach. They said it would lower the quality of teachers without addressing the root causes of existing teacher shortages, such as inadequate salaries and unappealing working conditions.

"We see this as an insult to the teaching profession," said Gayla Hudson, the director of teacher quality for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. "We have a nursing shortage, and nowhere is there any recommendation for six-week courses for nurses," she said.

Ms. Hudson argued that there had been "tremendous reform" among teacher- preparation programs in the past five years, including more emphasis on academic content and greater use of assessments designed to get at both the skills and knowledge needed in the classroom.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, said the basis for Mr. Paige's argument was flawed. "The data do not support the preconceptions of the administration that alternative routes to teaching are better than spending time in colleges of education and learning how to teach," he said.

Some critics were particularly irked by the way the report made what they called political use of the data required by the Higher Education Act.

"The [Education Department] is using this opportunity of the secretary having to report these data as a chance to promote their 'No Child Left Behind' Act and their alternative-certification agenda," said Penelope M. Early, a vice president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. She also contended that the department had misinterpreted or misrepresented some of the data to bolster its case for tougher tests of academic subjects and alternative certification.

'Utterly Incomprehensible'

Other critics took aim not at the Education Department, but at the teacher education institutions and the states to which they reported under the Higher Education Act.

The Education Trust, a Washington-based research group that works to improve achievement among minority students and those from poor families, released its own paper last week that called most of the reporting "inconsistent, incomplete, and utterly incomprehensible."

Kati Haycock

The Education Trust report concedes that states did fulfill the requirements of Title II, but says they did not do so in a way that allows people to gauge the magnitude of teacher-quality problems.

"Did those reports constitute a clear, honest baseline of information for the public on the quality of teacher preparation and teacher quality? The answer to that is simply no," said Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust.

For example, South Carolina reported that 5.4 percent of its teachers were not fully certified, and that those uncertified teachers were equally distributed throughout the state. However, the Education Trust report notes that two-thirds of the high-poverty districts in South Carolina did not report any data to the state, which it says results in an "incomplete understanding of the waiver situation" in the state.

Rep. George Miller

Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who pushed for the reporting system, also expressed disappointment in the data from states and institutions.

"If schools of education or states are gaming the system, we do not think Congress or the public should—or will—ultimately let them get away with it," he warned in a statement.

Michael J. Petrilli, an aide to Deputy Secretary of Education William D. Hansen, acknowledged that the quality of data provided to the Education Department was a matter of concern. Still, he added, "we strongly believe that data improves as people use it."

Vol. 21, Issue 41, Pages 25,28

Web Resources
  • The state reports on the quality of their teacher-preparation programs are posted by Title II Technical Assistance, a U.S. Department of Education contractor.
  • The Education Department's No Child Left Behind site includes a fact sheet on the law's teacher quality provisions. See also the a more extensive overview of programs and changes included in the law.
  • Teach for America, an alternative route to teaching touted by the Bush administration, answers FAQs.
  • National Education Association President Bob Chase issued a statement June 11, 2002, in response to Education Secretary Rod Paige's report on teacher quality. "Instead of helping professionalize teaching," Mr. Chase said, "the Secretary's proposals demean it by promoting teaching as volunteer work."
  • Arthur E. Wise, president of National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, also issued a statement, June 13, 2002, critical of Mr. Paige's report, saying that NCATE's view of the "Title II data support a different conclusion."
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