Who is responsible for getting the “best and brightest” into teaching?

I agree that “Great teaching starts with getting the best and brightest into teaching, and making sure their education equips them to succeed at inspiring students in the classroom” (Snyder, 2011, p. 9). What policies are likely to attract the best and brightest to become teachers? How do we best prepare teacher candidates to inspire their students? Who ultimately controls those policies? In other words, who is to blame if teacher education does not attract the best and brightest? Who is responsible for teacher education? I believe we are all responsible, even those sitting on the sidelines watching the show. We all can play a part in improving the situation. We can start by acknowledging that the best and brightest in most societies are encouraged to pursue careers that earn the most respect, power and money.

 Calls for the best and brightest seem hollow in the face of policies that privilege alternate and emergency routes to teacher certification.  These policies allow easy entry into teaching bypassing the so-called low standards for which they criticize. These same policy makers also call for increased quality and quantity of clinical and field experiences in accredited programs while promoting policies that endorse alternative routes that are very limited in both of these areas.

Increasingly, many reform proposals are based on economic and business interests, rather than educational concerns. These reform models seek to quantify and put a price on the intricate and complex activities of education, reducing them to a single test score. They are harmfully reductive, skewed and faulty, based on market models that have failed to serve the best interests of society while making enormous private profits for a few. Now this failed model is imposed on teacher education to diminish and devalue it in the name of reform.

Politicians should first take the time to recognize what is currently being done to allow only the brightest into teaching. Almost all states require students pass state administered and monitored standardized tests in basic skills before they can enter into a teacher education program. Like medical and law students, teacher education students are required to achieve a certain score to be admitted into their professional programs and must pass another specialized test to be licensed to practice. Most states set the standards needed in the area of basic skills to enter into teacher education, and in the areas of content and pedagogical knowledge to be certified as a teacher. If evidence suggests these standards are deficient, then the states can and should raise them.

However, if policy makers are truly concerned about recruiting the “best” students into teacher education programs, they have a host of  other physical, social, emotional, psychological, moral, intellectual, pedagogical, legal and civic standards beyond the currently required narrow standardized tests that should be met before allowing someone to teach in our schools. Do their policies account for these qualities in becoming a teacher? How do their policies support teacher education to see these that diverse and hard-to-evaluate standards are met? Why do they lower requirements when there is a teacher shortage or when for-profit enterprises wish to certify teachers?

One of political and corporate leaders’ complaints is that standards in teacher education programs are too low. I agree. Teaching is not for weak students and teacher education programs should not admit and retain candidates with low academic ability. However, some of the perceptions of low standards are erroneous, as are the suggestions for improving them. Before we accept the complaints about teacher education programs being of low quality, too theoretical, or too removed from the day-to-day realities of the classroom, we should examine what current teacher education programs require of its candidates before they allow them to teach.

Though critics often cite that the SAT scores of high school students who say they want to become teachers are lower than the average of other college bound students, they do not say how many of those students actually get accepted into a teacher education program or become teachers. A policy information report by the makers of SAT, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), compared 2002-2005 prospective teachers who took the Praxis II test with a cohort from 1994-1997 and similar demographics between the two, but “The academic profile of the entire candidate pool has improved” (Gitomer, 2007, p. 3).

At my institution, if we compare grade point averages of teacher candidates in the subjects for which they are being certified to teach with those students who are majoring in the subject but not in teacher education, the teacher education students get higher average grades. We have file drawers filled with applications of students who said they wanted to become teachers when they applied to our university, but did not meet our standards to be admitted in teacher education. We have other drawers for those who were admitted, but failed to meet our increasingly challenging requirements to become certified.

If the government feels teacher education standards are too low, they have the authority to raise them. Every accredited teacher education program must meet or exceed the state requirements. However, that is not their solution. Their solution is to lower state requirements for alternative routes to certification. These alternative routes are not held even to current state standards, let alone the higher standards by which university based teacher education programs abide. How does this fix the problem of low standards and poorly prepared teachers?

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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