June was a big month for education reform, particularly where teacher preparation is concerned. California abolished rigid job protections for its teachers, and Oklahoma did away with the state's most rigorous learning standards. Meanwhile, a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality found that only 13 percent of the 836 teacher prep programs it reviewed deserved above-mediocre rankings. There is another trend emerging, however -- one that both the NCTQ and Slate suggest has been overlooked: Many states are actually moving toward more stringent teaching standards. According to some experts, this philosophical shift could not only benefit teachers and students, but actually put the United States on par with some of the best educational systems in the world.
The NCTQ report found that all in all, 33 states have passed what it considers to be meaningful new regulations meant to improve teacher training. One such state is Rhode Island, which Slate notes went from having one of the nation's lowest entry-bars for teachers to having one of the most stringent: By 2016, teacher colleges will only admit students with SAT, ACT or GRE scores in the top half of the national distribution, and by 2020, that threshold will be in the top one-third. New Jersey is another state that recently took steps toward improving teacher training. According to The Star-Ledger, students applying to education programs in the state must now have a minimum B grade point average to be admitted, and then must maintain it in college to be certified. Peter Shulman, assistant education commissioner of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, said the changes have the potential to improve education on a broad scale.
"There is research and anecdotal evidence that the teacher in the classroom is the most important in-school factor for pushing academic achievement for students," Shulman told The Star-Ledger.
Slate suggests that the push toward more rigid teaching standards could put the United States in line with "education superpowers" like Finland and Singapore, which are known for cultivating achievement in the classroom. By setting the bar high, states not only ensure teachers-to-be are well-prepared to tackle what can be a very difficult job, but also send a message that education is important, and so are teachers.
Chicago-based high school English teacher Sophia Faridi suggests the same in a column she penned for Education Week last week. She notes that in Finland, teacher training is an extremely rigorous and prestigious process that requires candidates to have high test scores, pass interviews and publish theses. They are also required to earn at least a master's degree. The result: Teachers are trusted to have more control over their curricula. They are happier and more satisfied with their work, and that enthusiasm transfers to the classroom and, in turn, their students.
Of course, strict teaching standards are not the only way Finland invests in high-caliber education. Faridi adds that the country does not prescribe to high-stakes testing, does not assign homework, emphasizes play in the classroom and keeps school days short. It also works to provide teachers with a higher quality of life by paying them well and allowing them to complete much of their lesson planing at home. Nonetheless, groups like the NCTQ applaud efforts by some states to improve teacher training, even if incrementally.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"Happy Teaching, Happy Learning: 13 Secrets to Finland's Success," edweek.org, June 24, 2014, Sophia Faridi, http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/06/24/ctq_faridi_finland.html
"Higher Calling," slate.com, June 17, 2014, Amanda Ripley, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/06/american_schools_need_better_teachers_so_let_s_make_it_harder_to_become.html
"NJ raises standards for teacher training and certification," nj.com, June 17, 2014. Peggy McGlone, http://www.nj.com/education/2014/06/nj_raises_standards_on_teacher_prep_programs_and_certification_requirements.html
"Teacher Prep Review 2014 Report," nctq.org, June, 2014, http://www.nctq.org/dmsStage/Teacher_Prep_Review_2014_Report