The nation’s teaching force can be strengthened by improving screening methods for prospective educators and making teacher-preparation programs more meaningful, a report from the American Federation of Teachers says.
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A list of 10 recommendations in the report released last week includes the development of new national tests and the expansion of college-based preparation programs from four years to five.
“We need to professionalize teaching,” said Joan Baratz-Snowden, the deputy director of educational issues for the AFT, which represents 1 million teachers and other personnel in schools, municipalities, colleges, and the health-care industry. “It is a new day. Standards-based education is significantly different, and we have to prepare teachers to be successful in it.”
The report is one of many proposals developed since the 1980s that calls for more rigorous teacher-preparation and -licensure programs. The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future made similar recommendations in the 1990s. The Holmes Group and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession shared similar opinions in 1986.
Prepared by a task force made up of AFT members and former members, “Building a Profession: Strengthening Teacher Preparation and Induction” calls for a national voluntary assessment to screen teacher education candidates before their entry into such programs.
The test should require prospective teachers to demonstrate college-level proficiency in mathematics, science, English/language arts, and the area of history, geography, and social studies, the task force says. A second assessment should be given before teachers are awarded state licenses.
“These new examinations should aim for a level of rigor that is consistent with what entry-level teachers in high-performing countries are expected to know,” the report argues. Both national exams would test knowledge of academic content and pedagogy.
The AFT’s call for new assessments suggests that the union is unhappy with current tests for teaching, many of which the group helped design, said David G. Imig, the executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington.
This is a “fairly loud statement” of dissatisfaction with the existing cadre of tests, Mr. Imig said.
Still, persuading states and colleges to adopt the proposed assessments would be difficult, said Leo W. Pauls, the executive director of the Renaissance Group, an Emporia, Kan.-based coalition of 22 colleges. Its members’ teacher-preparation programs produce one in every 15 teachers in the United States.
“I don’t think anybody is concerned about not measuring up, but it just doesn’t work that easily,” Mr. Pauls said. “There are so many differences between and among states.”
Standards for acceptance to teacher-training programs should be raised from a 2.75 to a 3.0 grade point average, the AFT report says, and every education major—whether aiming to teach elementary, middle, or high school—should be required to pursue an academic major.
With so much for prospective teachers to learn, colleges should convert their four-year teacher-training programs into five-year programs, the report says. The fifth year of study would be devoted to intensive clinical training in which prospective teachers were closely mentored. College students who participated would be paid for their work.
Teachers who enter the profession through alternative programs must also be subject to stricter standards, the task force argues. All candidates taking such a route should be required to pass state tests in academic-content areas, it says.
A critic of the AFT’s recommended strategies said they would have a minimal effect on the quality of teachers and would erect barriers discouraging good candidates from joining the profession. “It is laughable to think that these little, incremental changes are going to have any significant effect on the teaching workforce,” said Michael J. Podgursky, the chairman of the economics department at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “We ought to be rewarding teachers who are demonstrating superior tactics and phasing out those who are not.”
Such a declaration from the AFT will get attention, however, Mr. Imig said. “If they press this through ... they’ll have a significant impact,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as AFT Urges New Tests, Expanded Training For Teachers