Scholars Call for Improvement In Teacher-Training Programs

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Washington--Raising teachers' salaries is not necessarily the answer to excellence in education; other solutions--such as improved teacher-training programs and recruitment of high-caliber students--would probably be more effective, academicians told the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources during a hearing on quality in education last week.

The hearing was the second of three the committee is holding to discuss the recommendations of "A Nation at Risk," the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

While teachers' salaries in many areas are low, asserted Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, the beginning compensation, for the most part, is fair in light of the training and the amount of work required.

"I can think of few fields that pay attractive wages to inexperienced bachelor's-degree holders," said Mr. Finn. "The comparison that really galls teachers--and justifiably so--is the difference among salaries at the age of 27 or 28, when the already-experienced teacher is earning so much less than his college classmates who have recently emerged from law school, business school, medical school, and, in some cases, even graduate school in arts and sciences.

"The nurses won't like my putting it this way," Mr. Finn added, "but we train and employ teachers as if they were nurses, or para-legals, or clerks, but then we compare their salaries to those of doctors, lawyers, and middle-level business managers."

Mr. Finn also told members of the committee that because teaching is not a year-round job, teachers' wages actually are considerably higher than the annual figure indicates.

"Think how differently we would regard an average teacher salary of $27,375, compared to the $20,531 that was the actual average teacher salary in 1982-83," he said. "The larger figure is simply four-thirds of the smaller, which is to say that if we paid people for 48 weeks at the same weekly rate we now use for a 36-week year, that is how much we would have paid teachers last year."

A more effective way to improve the quality of the teaching force, Mr. Finn said, would be to improve current teacher-training programs. He advocated the establishment of an extensive apprenticeship program and called on states to "abolish the presumption that the graduate of a teachers' college is automatically qualified to possess a teacher's license."

Emily Feistritzer, publisher of The American Teacher and director of a study for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching entitled "The Condition of Teaching," also was critical of teacher training.

"We need to find out what's going on inside those teacher-education programs," she said. "Why, for example, did nearly one-fifth of graduates of teacher-education programs fail Florida's minimum-competency test in 1981 and 1983? Why did 45 percent of those graduates applying to teach English in Maryland's Montgomery County fail simple English examinations?"

Although teachers' salaries are low (the purchasing power of the average classroom teacher has dropped by 12.2 percent in the last decade, Ms. Feistritzer told the committee), improving the quality of the teaching force would automatically increase teachers' salaries, she suggested. "I argue that getting more academically able people into teaching will raise the status of teaching and make it easier to justify higher salaries," she said.

Derek Bok, president of Harvard University, also advocated improving the teaching force as a means of attaining excellence in education. One effective way of accomplishing that, he said, would be to offer talented students scholarships and forgivable loans.

While improving teacher training is "the most obvious way in which universities can help," Mr. Bok said, he added that he was uncertain how much that would affect the quality of secondary education.

"I am aware of no study that demonstrates a significant correlation between the nature of a teacher's formal preparation and the extent of academic achievement and progress of his or her students," he said.

Vol. 03, Issue 10

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