Education and training required for teacher certification.
Each of the 50 states has specific qualifications for becoming a teacher and enforces a system of certification and licensure for public school teaching. While these qualifications vary, all require at least a bachelor's degree and some specialized training. Many states also require teachers to train as substitutes or in an apprentice role for a prescribed period. Still, there is a growing sense that teachers are not qualified, or not as qualified as they could be. Remarkably, this feeling is even prevalent among teachers themselves. A 1990 study reported in Comparative Education found that only 47% of natural sciences teachers felt that they themselves were qualified to teach their courses. The same study found that in England 80% felt qualified, 95% of Japanese natural science teachers considered themselves qualified, and in Germany 91% felt qualified. Similarly, only 42% of American teachers felt qualified to teach their math assignments. While these numbers at first may appear shocking, they reflect a widespread concern that has been voiced from various arenas over the last couple of decades: American public education is facing tremendous challenges.
One reason often cited for the failings of American public education is the relatively low status afforded teachers in our highly commercialized, highly corporate culture. In other industrialized countries, teachers are held in much higher esteem and are correspondingly paid at a much higher rate. During the 1980s, American teachers' salaries were roughly equal to that of the average factory worker. Canadian teachers during the same period earned 40% more than the average factory worker, Danish teachers earned 28% more, and Japanese teachers earned 77% more than the average factory worker. In considering these figures, it is important to keep in mind that factory workers in most other industrialized countries earn much better livings than factory workers in the United States, where the power of labor has been on the decline for some years.
Low cultural esteem and low pay combine to force many highly qualified and highly educated people to turn away from careers in teaching in the United States. The cream of the academic crop may seek more lucrative careers. A 1991 survey of college graduates who had taken the Armed Forces Qualifying Test showed that graduates with the lowest IQs were more than twice as likely to go into education than those with the highest IQs.
Critics who observe teacher training note the relative ease of acceptance to American universities. In most industrialized countries of Western Europe and Japan, high school students must pass one or more difficult, highly competitive examinations to be granted entrance to the university system. These exams are much more rigorous than anything American students must pass, and they determine at a quite young age whether a student has the intellectual skills necessary for college entrance. In the United States, on the other hand, many state-funded universities have open admissions policies, which basically means that if you have a high school diploma you can be admitted to the university. While this attitude follows the American ideal of equality of opportunity and strikes many people as a more just and humane system than the Western European/Japanese model of academic and social stratification, it produces high school and college graduates with minimal reading and writing skills. This system also produces a large number of college dropouts. In the U.S., only about half of the students who enter four-year colleges earn a degree within six years.
In the area of technology and its useful application, U.S. teachers also face problems of competency. Computers have been in American classrooms for more than a decade now, but teachers still struggle to understand their usefulness. At first, many computers were simply glorified video games and typewriters, which many students were more adept with than their teachers. In the last several years, with the proliferation of the Internet, however, this has started to change. Computers have been recognized as valuable tools for research and instruction. Yet, teacher training on the use of new technology is inadequate in most cases. Often, teachers are trained in software or hardware but not given adequate instruction on applying this knowledge to student tasks. In a 1995 survey conducted by Electronic Learning magazine, teachers reported that 66% of their recent training sessions were on software packages or the workings of hardware, while only 21% focused on curriculum. Fourteen
Of course, many teachers are highly qualified and committed to their careers, despite these social and cultural disincentives. Despite the grim picture many critics paint, there are many proposals for fixing the crisis. One is that teacher certification standards should be stiffened. In some states, economic incentives are used to encourage teachers to pursue graduate training in the subject they teach. (Almost no states require, for instance, that science teachers have advanced degrees in science.) Some people have even suggested that teachers be required to have a degree in the subject they teach along with their teaching degree. This suggestion has problems, however, considering the low pay offered to teachers in the United States. In 1994, Congress passed Goals 2000: Educate America Act, a broad, non-binding resolution outlining the federal governments' vision of where public education should be headed in the year 2000. Goal Four of the Act deals with teacher education and professional development, and focuses on curriculum and reforms in teacher training.
Another approach to school reform is privatization, advocated by free marketeers from Congress and the business world. Turning the schools over to the private sector, they maintain, would lead, among other things, to better trained teachers. One such advocate, Philip Geiger, president of Education Alternatives, suggests what he euphemistically refers to as "rightsizing" the teaching force while instituting broad programs of professional development. He writes, in a 1996 issue of American School and University, "The private sector has learned that productivity and profits can grow when downsizing is accompanied by increased spending for training." He, and many privatization advocates like him, believe that the increased profits downsizing has brought to the corporate world are equivalent to higher quality education in school systems. Some of Geiger's solutions to cost-effective staff development include working lunch meetings, organizing research teams among teachers, having teachers trade classrooms to get a feel for other subjects and approaches, and having teachers teach each other.
Sikula, John, et al. Handbook of Research on Teacher Education. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1996.
|Goal||Baseline(1991)||1994||Goal for 2000|
Note: Includes secondary school teachers whose main teaching assignment was in mathematics, science, English, social studies, fine arts, foreign language, or special education.
Source: National Education Goals Panel, 1996.
|Teachers, percent of total||66%||63%||100%|
Geiger, Philip. "The Politics of Professional Development," American School and University 68, April 1996, p. 40.
"Good Kopp or Bad Kopp: The Hubbub over Teach for America," New Yorker 70, October 17, 1994, pp. 46-47.
McAdams, Richard. "Teaching Our Teachers: Lessons from Abroad," The Clearing House 68, July/August 1995, pp. 353-55.
Siegel, Jessica. "The State of Teacher Training," Electronic Learning 14, May/June 1995, pp. 43-51.