- Less than half of aspiring elementary school teachers — 46% — pass a common licensing exam on the first try, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which points a finger at the nation's teacher education programs for not requiring their students to take the courses needed to pass the exams.
- While undergraduates usually have long lists of general education courses to choose from, higher education institutions are not adequately providing “advice ... as to which courses will build their core knowledge as aspiring elementary teachers,” the authors write.
- Teacher preparation programs should address gaps in teachers’ knowledge and set course requirements at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to “align with what elementary teachers need to know,” says the report, which also identifies courses in the four core content areas that would allow teachers to give their students a “foundation of essential knowledge.”
NCTQ may be best known for its Teacher Prep Review, an ongoing project to measure thousands of traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs against a set of standards. In recent years, some researchers have cast doubts on the organization’s findings and methods, and some in the higher education community don’t consider the NCTQ a good judge of the quality of teacher preparation programs. This newest report may not be well-received by colleges and universities, either.
The report, however, doesn’t place all the blame with higher education institutions, saying the gaps in undergraduates’ content knowledge stem back to their K-12 years and that black and Hispanic students — who often have unequal access to grade-level instruction in K-12 — are less likely than white candidates to pass the licensing exam. Dan Goldhaber, an education professor at the University of Washington, noted this in a 2010 journal article, saying “licensure policies, to at least some extent, conflict with the recruitment of minorities into teaching — a long-standing policy goal, particularly in districts with large percentages of minority students.”
Meanwhile, some argue the teacher licensing process, in general, may not be doing a good job of predicting whether someone will be a high-quality educator — an issue North Carolina is now wrestling with since switching from the ETS’s Praxis tests to a Pearson set of exams. High failure rates on the Pearson math test among elementary school teachers that are already working in the classroom — and often getting positive evaluations — has left officials looking for another option. Now, the state is considering allowing teachers the option of taking a new Praxis exam that focuses more on the skills needed to teach math at the elementary level.
As the NCTQ report suggests, however, the situation has also led to a discussion over how much math teacher education students should have in the first place.