So You Think it’s Easy to Become a Teacher?

Allie Bidwell wrote an interesting article for U.S. News & World Report the other day entitled “Teacher Prep Programs Give Easy A’s”  (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/11/12/report-teacher-preparation-assignments-emphasize-opinions-over-skills).

Allie Bidwell earned an undergraduate degree in sociology in 2012.  Interestingly, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also has a degree in sociology.  It is seems that sociologists now feel confident in immersing themselves in education policy issues.  Apparently it is no longer sufficient to simply blame teachers for the purported woes of our nation’s education system.  The going thing now is to blame the teacher education programs.  Those of us working as teacher educators in colleges and universities around the country must be guilty of promoting what George W. Bush called “touchy feely” education strategies that disregard the real stuff of education — test scores and data.

Bidwell had to ignore some very hard facts when she wrote her article.  While many critics have complained about grade inflation in teacher education courses, not a few coming from the ranks of education professors, the A’s earned by too many teacher education majors does not reflect the entire scenario of what it takes to become a certified teacher.  And, as a side note, I’ve known a few sociology majors who earned easy and underserved A’s as well!  I am not, however, about to engage in an analysis that carefully scrutinizes the rigor required to earn a sociology degree.  I’ll leave that up to folks like those at NCTQ discussed below who might want ot expand their field of study!

Becoming a certified teacher requires much more than good grades.  I currently work for a small liberal arts college in upstate New York as a teacher educator.  Unlike other students enrolled in programs like sociology, my students are required to take (and pass) several very rigorous standardized exams before they graduate and in order to be certified to teach in New York schools.  They must pass the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test, a Content Speciality Test (CST) based on their certification field(s), and, last but not least, they must pass the edTPA.  Of course, the NCTQ seems to think that all these tests are irrelevant.  However, for a student who hopes to become a teacher, not passing any one of these standardized assessments will prevent them from being certified to teach in New York — regardless of their grades in courses. Other states also have these types of tests for teacher certification.

Bidwell seems not to know much about teacher education programs.  She doesn’t know, for example, that teacher education programs, in order to remain in business, must be accredited by a national accrediting agency like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  Our accreditation is dependant on our students’ success on assessments like the ALST, the EAS, the CST, and EdTPA.  You had better believe that we are highly motivated to provide our students with rigorous instruction in our teacher education programs and we rely on our colleagues in the English, math, science, and history departments to do the same for these future teachers.

Rather than relying on the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) as a primary source for her information regarding the quality of teacher education programs, it would behoove Allie Bidwell to actually talk to those who work within these programs and the students themselves.  My students readily accept the challenges they face to become teachers.  They sometimes express dismay at the extra expense associated with the standardized certification assessments they are required to take.  These tests cost a lot of money.  But if you want to be a teacher, you count that cost into your overall teacher education experience.

Kate Walsh of the NCTQ asserts that the inflated grades earned by students in teacher education courses “stemmed from a prevalence of assignments emphasizing student opinions over knowledge, skills and techniques.”  Well, perhaps Walsh didn’t get the memo.  The Common Core State Standards pretty much rules the education world right now.  My job as a teacher educator is to prepare my students to teach according to the CCSS.  And one of the “shifts” touted by the CCSS is a reliance on evidence to support opinions and arguments.  That’s not just for K-12 students. That “shift” is modeled every day in teacher education courses.  Regardless of how teacher educators may view these standards, I take that part of my job very seriously.  I am invested in my students’ success in college, on the standardized tests they are required to take for certification, and most importantly, their success as teachers in the future.  I, like most professors in teacher education programs, understand our role in the education system.  And it is no cliche that we care about the children our students will go on to teach.

I take personal umbrage at Walsh’s assertion that, “the field is still very much of the mindset that whatever you want to teach about anything is fine, that the teacher preparation candidates will decide on their own how to teach.”  That’s BALONEY!!  Teacher preparation programs will lose their accreditation with that attitude.  The final assessment our students are required to pass is the EdTPA.  It’s rigorous to say the least.  It’s field based.  And it’s all about supporting teacher practice with a solid understanding of best practices, analyzing student work and data, and making sound professional decisions about instruction. Again, NCTQ thinks an assessment like this is irrelevant.

What Allie Bidwell may not fully understand is that NCTQ is solidly wedded to the idea that K-12 student test scores should be the primary determinant in teacher accountability and success.  They developed their own rating system in order to support their preconceived ideas, and their system has been scrutinized and critiqued over and over again by reputable sources as any simple internet search will make clear.  Of course, this article and the criticisms of NCTQ regarding teacher preparation may be new news to Bidwell, but it’s old news to those who study education policy and history.  On the other hand, trying to pin down NCTQ on exactly what is the correct empirical and unassailable way to produce a teacher who will always succeed no matter what – is like trying to hold on to a slippery pig!  Certainly no other professional class is held to this type of standard.  It would certainly be nice, for example, to go to a doctor and be 100% assured all will be well no matter what medical situation or condition one finds oneself.  Do teacher preparation programs need to do better?  Yes, and they continue to strive to improve as any serious study of this topic will demonstrate.  However, relying on the NCTQ to be the sole arbiter on the subject means one is about to sink quickly into a conservative anti-public school ideological morass.