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Published in Print: August 11, 2004, as Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

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4-Year Degrees Urged For Those Who Teach Infants and Toddlers

Among policymakers and experts in early-childhood education, agreement has been growing in recent years that every preschool teacher should have a bachelor’s degree. Now, along comes a new report from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education that takes that recommendation even further, saying that teachers who work with infants and toddlers should also have four-year degrees.

The position statement, called "The Early Childhood Challenge: Preparing High-Quality Teachers for a Changing Society," is the Washington-based membership group’s effort to weigh in on the preparation of early-childhood teachers at a time when states and the federal government are increasing their attempts to provide school readiness programs.

"While emphasis on curriculum and content is important, high-quality early-childhood-education teachers are essential for addressing pervasive and persistent educational problems such as low reading and math achievement, particularly of children from low socioeconomic environments," says the paper, which was written by a "focus council" of early-childhood-education experts from eight of the association’s member institutions.

The paper says that those who educate early-childhood teachers in colleges of education should themselves have experience in the field, and that multiple departments and schools within universities—not just education—can contribute to a preparation program for such teachers.

The authors make a number of recommendations for schools, colleges, and departments of education: Among them, teacher-preparation programs should be linked to states’ early-learning standards; early-childhood education should be treated as a special discipline, separate from elementary education; and agreements should be forged that make it easier for students to transfer associate’s-degree-level courses into bachelor’s programs.

Perplexed by New Rules

The federal government should expand its technical assistance to those who are implementing the No Child Left Behind Act, and states should set up clearinghouses to help districts meet the law’s requirements on "highly qualified" teachers, asserts the latest policy brief on the law from the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality.

Based in Chapel Hill, N.C., the center has published four briefs on the law, focusing specifically on Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The newest brief, released last month, suggests that school administrators are often perplexed by the changing provisions on teacher quality, and that some links in the "chain of communication" from the federal government are weak.

State efforts to help educators understand the law have also not been effective, the authors write, except in Georgia, where the state Professional Standards Commission hired regional consultants to work with districts on the highly-qualified-teacher mandate, which public schools must meet by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

Although Georgia school officials still express confusion about shifting definitions, at least they "benefit from a single and consistent point of contact for their numerous questions," the paper says.

The brief also recommends more resources for data collection and reporting, and says that meeting the federal requirements doesn’t necessarily ensure that teachers will be highly qualified. Thus, it urges states to continue to improve professional development, working conditions, and higher education programs.

Great Explorations

Social studies teachers can now lead their students on a virtual expedition through the Western wilderness to illustrate lessons about the explorations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The Web-based program is timed for the bicentennial celebration of the legendary journey that from 1803 to 1806 took the pair and their entourage through uncharted territory, from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast to what is now Oregon.

For More Info
Visit the "Back to School with Lewis and Clark" Web site.

The materials, available free on CD-ROM, include lessons on their travels, as well as the political, economic, geographic, and environmental realities of the era. The project also provides state-specific information about the expedition and links to historical documents and related images.

In addition, the materials are linked with national standards in social studies and science to help teachers integrate the information into other lessons.

The project is sponsored by the Qwest Foundation, based in Denver, and the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

Science Aid

Federal Department of Energy laboratories, such as Stanford University’s Linear Accelerator Center, are in some ways the gifted-and-talented clubs of government-sponsored research, where Nobel laureates mingle with atomic scientists, and water-cooler talk presumably touches on particle astrophysics and synchrotron radiation.

Now, a venture is under way to put that collective brainpower to a new purpose: promoting scientific literacy among precollegiate students and teachers.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham recently announced plans to expand his agency’s efforts that enable primary and secondary school teachers and students to make use of the department’s national laboratories as resources for teaching and learning.

The new enterprise, part of which will begin as early as this summer, includes bringing in K-12 science teachers to take part in three-year mentoring programs at seven of the department’s 17 national labs and expanding the Energy Department’s "Ask a Scientist" Web site, which gives students, teachers, and the public the opportunity to e-mail scientific questions to department staff members (and can be viewed at It also includes establishing the Office of Department of Energy Science Education, which will be responsible for implementing the school-centered plan.

In addition, Mr. Abraham, in a speech last month at the Stanford laboratory, in Palo Alto, Calif., said he would form an advisory task force charged with examining other ways his department can improve science education.

The energy secretary, in announcing the initiative, pointed to the drop-off in U.S. students’ scores between the 4th and 12th grades on the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study as evidence of the need for more emphasis on basic and advanced science education in schools.

"It is a simple fact that work will migrate to the nation with the most skilled workforce," Mr. Abraham said.

"Moreover, our national security depends on having access to a workforce that has highly advanced technical skills," he said.

—Linda Jacobson, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, & Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 44, Page 9

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