The focus should be on quality teaching (Part 2) - Columns - Explorer

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The focus should be on quality teaching (Part 2)

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Richard D. Brinkley


This op-ed focuses on the topic of quality teachers by first declaring educational heresy: there is no correlation between teacher certification and quality teachers.  John E. Chubb, Distinguished Visiting Fellow and member of the K-12 Education Task Force, Hoover Institute, wrote in his book The Best Teachers in the World – Why we don’t have them and how we could:

“ . . . sophisticated statistical analyses have been unable to find any benefit in teacher education for student achievement. Licensed or certified teachers appear to perform no better than teachers without certification or those certified through alternative routes.  The time required for traditional certification through a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in education also deters many bright students from even considering teaching.”

Schools of education have been rightfully criticized for being non-selective, i.e. these schools accept any warm body.  Students in education programs post SAT scores at or below the national average of all college graduates. The most recent average SAT score of teachers graduating from traditional schools of education was 1021. 

The Peabody College at Vanderbilt University is the only school of education in a national university that trains its students to become licensed K-12 teachers. Peabody recruits the very best students and demands the best from them. The average SAT score for Peabody graduates in 2011 was 1438. 

John Chubb wrote that “The vast majority of U.S. teachers are produced in lower quality colleges and universities . . . The results of exhaustive research show teacher education programs failing to meet literally all standards . . .”

Teach for America, an alternative program, recruits one of every ten Ivy League graduates, trains the graduates and places them in low-income communities for two years. There is no teacher certification. Teach for America recruits the best and brightest, trains and supports them . . . no useless time-consuming education courses, no teacher certification barriers. Why can’t Arizona emulate Teach for America?

STEM: the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is the current buzzword. We need greater emphasis on STEM in our schools everyone says. But who is going to teach STEM? We have a shortage of math and science teachers now.  We have emergency certificated teachers teaching math and science who have never majored in math or science. What knowledge is being transferred to our children? 

John Chubb’s solution to the quality-teaching dilemma is threefold. First, education can do what other industries have done: turn to technology. “Reconfiguring schools to use teachers and technology to the best of their respective abilities could transform teaching.”

It’s already being accomplished in KIPP LA schools and the San Jose Charter Academy.

Second, teacher training should occur before and after the teacher assumes responsibility for a classroom. “They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that is predominate today. They should be trained in institutions and programs able to demonstrate their efficacy in producing teachers who raise student achievement.”

Third, school leadership, principals, is essential to quality teaching. “Principals create the working conditions that help determine whether great teachers remain . . . Principals specifically must retain top quartile teachers, replace bottom quartile teachers, and hire new teachers with higher probabilities of success.”

Arizona cannot wait for the educational complex to change. There is no correlation between teacher certification and student achievement. Why, then, do we have teacher certification? It is a barrier to recruiting quality teachers.

John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Education for Arizona, should immediately begin working on Teach for Arizona, modeled after Teach for America. This state has more retired Ph.Ds. and Master’s degrees itching to become involved that the STEM issue could be solved. Removing the certification barrier will attract quality candidates.

Additionally, the Superintendent of Education should immediately create a performance metrics team to develop macro performance measures of schools, principals and teachers along the lines of my last op-ed on teacher quality.

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Richard D. Brinkley