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Sidetracking the Debate on Teacher Quality

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For a decade, policymakers and educators have debated how best to place a highly qualified teacher into every classroom. But this effort has been unintentionally sidetracked, as No Child Left Behind "has become an exercise in meeting the lowest common denominator of quality," write Roy E. Barnes and Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr. in this Education Week Commentary.

Barnes and Aguerrebere argue that credit hours and criminal-background checks get more attention than factors needed to make a person highly qualified to teach, namely skills and knowledge. Setting "minimal standards will not significantly improve teacher quality," they say, but establishing a national certification board that ensures higher-order teaching skills just may be the ticket.

What do you think? Has the quest for teaching excellence been helped or hampered by the No Child Left Behind Act?

19 Comments

We asked our students what are the characteristics that teachers have that help students to learn?

1.A caring teacher - "They do not care how much we know until they know how much we care."
2.Enthusiasim for teaching and for their subject.
3.A sense of humor.
4.Knowledge of their subject matter.

The first three do not show up in any NCLB standards.

A driver's liscense does not mean a person is a good driver, but it does give them the right to teach. A teaching certificate does not mean a person is a good teacher. It does give them the right to teach. NCLB does not foster high quality teaching.

Although the intent of NCLB was to improve the quality of teachers for all children, this law is a perfect example of how good intentions can have bad and unintended consequences. What is happening at my school right now is a perfect example of how NCLB is hurting the very children it intended to help.

I work at a low-income school that has always had the lowest test scores in our district. The only time our scores went up was during a period when the principal instructed teachers to teach to the test (euphemism for teaching exact items). Almost all the teachers at my school are considered highly qualified and most are very dedicated. This is not only my opinion. When we were reviewed by the state two years ago, the visiting evaluators made a special point of praising us for the excellent teaching they saw in every classroom. Other visiting educators have told us the same thing and parents are pleased and grateful for the work that we do.

Because our school has had a good reputation as a place to work, we have attracted some very talented people. We have teachers with excellent backgrounds in science, technology, art, music and special education. Most of all, I see my colleagues as very caring people who spend their own money on extras for the children. Once in a while when I go back to school at 7:00 p.m. I will usually find some teachers still there. In the summer, they start to get their rooms ready in August, even though school starts in September.
We have little turnover and certainly no weak teachers are transferred to our school from other schools. Teachers who leave usually do so after the birth of a child.

Well, this fall we were informed that we are now in "school improvement" because our English Language Learners did not make adequate progress. The principal told us that we missed "passing" by only two children, whatever that means. In accordance with NCLB rules, our whole staff has to participate in staff development. When I went to one of these I had this to say to a district administrator, "We have excellent teachers at our school." This was her reply: "Not according to your test scores."

For the first time since I started working at this school, I am witnessing severe morale problems among the staff. The young and especially talented teachers are now applying in suburban schools. Other teachers are making comments such as "I'm telling my son and daughter not to become teachers" or "If teachers are being evaluated on test scores, then I'm going to improve mine by transferring to Affluent Elementary. I can play this game too."

If this continues, it's only a matter of time before all teachers who can teach in high-scoring schools will do so. It's always been this way to some extent but now it will get worse.

Does the government really want to attract "the best and the brightest" to low-income schools? Well, here's something that will work: Pay these people competitive salaries and then show a little gratitude for the work that they do.

I taught sucessfully in the classroom for 23 years -- primarily elementary and middle school science and taught methods classes as an adjunct insturctor at a university for 7 years. Though I still have a valid teaching certificate, I am not considered "highly qualified" according to NCLB because I lack some reading courses. I cannot find a classroom teaching job because I'm over qualified with regards to experience and degrees and underqualifed according to NCLB. Go figure.
I have seen teachers actually loose their creativity and ability to respond to children's needs because they must keep true to the district pacing guide so that children have been "taught" what is needed to pass the test. NCLB may have raised test scores, but do children know more? Can they employ critical thinking to their everyday lives and to the problems they will face in the future? Are they artists, poets, musicians, atheletes as well as good readers? We have lost sight of educating the whole child, but they did pass the test.

Like the previous respondent, in my current state of employment (NC), according to their criteria, I am considered "not highly qualified" to teach K-12 reading or elementary pre-service teachers.

I retired after 25 years of teaching in a public school district in upstate NY (10,000 students). During my tenure I taught K, 2nd-3rd, and 6th grades as a classroom teacher; reading specialist at the elementary (2 yrs) middle school (14 yrs) and high school (1 year); served as a district professional developer and teacher mentor (8 years); district coordinator for ELA, Reading, and ESL, K-12 (7years); Executive officer (including president) of NYS Reading Association (5 years); and Doctoral Student and research assistant at a national research center (Center of English Learning and Achievement).

I have decided NOT to participate in NC state requirements. My students (pre-service) take the PRAXIS exam and, upon graduation with a passing grade on the PRAXIS, are rated as highly qualified teachers according to the state criteria. These students are not required to pursue a master's degree or ever take any other focused course of study to maintain their "highly qualified" status. They need only to take workshops and inservice offerings for credit hours to maintain their "highly qualified status for the rest of their careers.

Being "unqalified" in this state is my choice.

Like a number of my friends, my work life has been outside public education. Although I earned two credentials during my 20's, I chose to teach and/or work in the private sector. When I turned 59, I went back to school and earned two more credentials, special education (m/m)and specialist reading/language arts, and am currently working on my MA. I felt I had much to bring to the job, with my vast working experiences, something that many life-long teachers do not have.
During this entire time I have worked as a substitute teacher in a rural school district. I have taken on 3 long-term positions, not of my choosing, but to show my willingness to participate, and hopefully get recognized. I have applied for over 15 jobs. I was allowed to interview for 2, and then not offered a job. After one interview I asked the principal, a friend, what I might do to improve my chances. She told me that she wanted to hire me, but the district picked a younger person.
I am an energetic, strong, and young looking 64 year old, but it does me no good. For one university course I surveyed some colleagues on whether they believed ageism existed in the district (actually the question was about dying our hair - which I don't). Without exception everyone believed it did.
Like so much of the rhetoric of our current administration, they take positive expressions, such as highly qualified, and then pursue the opposite. This is truly a dark period for dedicated and experienced teachers.

In my state (GA) according to their criteria, I am consider "not highly qualified", although I have taken everything you need to take to be a teacher, except for passing Praxis exam 2. I know how to conduct a classroom and write lesson plans. But they can hire someone who has a 4 yr degree in Psychology & never has had a class in education and does not know how to write a lesson plan. You tell me that is highly qualified.

It is gratifying to see the early evidence of achievement gains among students of nationally board-certified teachers. One component however that often seems to be missing in these discussions is the relationship of quality teaching and values or character education. Ongoing research in Australia suggests values play an important role in creating the atmosphere necessary for good teaching and student achievement. Here in the USA, Linda Darling-Hammond (1998) has noted "For more than 30 years, research has found that successful schools create communities in which students are well known both personally and academically and where common goals and values have been forged." Values may be the missing link in quality teaching and education.

The question posed is, "Has the quest fro teacher excellence been helped or hindered by the No Child Left Behind Act.. The simple answer is that this quest has been hindered. A longer answer is that the No Child Left Behind Act has done very little to help any part of education.
The law has diverted funding from programs that do, in fact work, to programs that, so far, do not.
Caught in the middle are classroom teachers that are required to meet one or more of at least fifty different requirements (fifty staes, fifty systems, fifty requiements) in order to be designated as a quality or a master teacher. Similar to the high standards for students mandated by No Child left Behind, the law requires high standards for teachers. One major stumbling block in the federal legislation is that no national standards are set. It is up to each state to somehow devine the standards that the department of education wants and to submit these standards for review. It is much like a game show that asls contestants to "Pick a Test". The contestants then take the test, have it scored and the they are not only informed of their score, but also if they indeed picked the right test to take.
Quality teachers are playing the game, moving to where the bonuses and good pay are available.
Education is not a business. It can be aided by good business practices and improved by proven programs. So far No Child Left Behind has proven to be a dismal failure.

My father was a surgeon. When I was a teenager he decided that city life was not for him, he studied for licensing exams in two different states and ultimately we moved to a small town. While there was one other surgeon in town at that time, much surgery was performed by General Practitioners who acquired surgical privileges at the local hospital based on their length of tenure.

Does this sound scary to you? Certainly each of those practitioners cared a lot about their patients, and had been performing surgeries for which they had no training for a number of years. Why should they have to acquire CEUs and demonstrate knowledge to be able to do something that they had been doing for some time. And afterall--this was a small town, people shouldn't expect high level care--for that they should move to the city, right?

Any parallels?

NCLB does not address the greater issue of WHAT DO WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO LEARN AND BE ABLE TO DO. There are no set curriculum standards. Inequities in education are a reflection of social inequity. I think criminal background checks are very important for all schools and poor schools should not have ex-cons performing as role models. Middle and upper class Americans--regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity have no idea how impoverished and unethical and degrading conditions are in poor minority schools. The gap is so huge that none of these measures will even begin to touch it.

It is important to realize that what NCLB calls a highly qualified teacher is only a minimally qualified teacher. NCLB requires 3 things of new hires by districts: 1) that they have a college degree, 2) that they hold a teaching certificate and 3) that they be able to demonstrate competency in the subject they teach, usually by passing a test developed or selected by the state in which they reside. None of this guarantees a good teacher. However, these requirements are reasonable prerequisites for a good teaching force. They should not be abandoned. It was nice of the authors of NCLB to call such teachers "highly qualified", even if these qualifications are only "adequate".

The authors (Barnes and Aguerrebere) suggest that districts and states, and perhaps the federal government require that that teachers obtain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with which the authors are associated. They say that students of Board-certified teachers do better on NAEP. While this is all well and good, passing a test or a series of tests doesn't automatically make one an excellent teacher. There are many excellent teachers who do not have the NBPTS credential. And, many students of those who have the credential, are not doing well. We must remember that teacher testing does not guarantee student learning. Still, minimum background qualifications and tests help ensure that the public has confidence in the teachers that the schools employ.

It would be foolish to abandon the minimum background qualifications established by NCLB. They should have been established long ago! Similarly, it would be foolish to replace them with a requirement that teachers pass a series of tests published by a single national accredition board. In the final analysis, the best approach to ensuring teacher growth and quality is observation, supervision, and evaluation by a department chair and a principal. When a teacher is hired, there is really no way to know how good he or she will be. It is only after hiring that this can be evaluated. And the evaluation should be a process that reaches a decision point after three years (tenure or no tenure). The observation, supervision, and mentoring should always be there. But, the process must begin with personnel who have an adequate background for teaching. Otherwise, we regress back in time to the days before NCLB, with many teachers not even holding a college degree, certification, or teaching out of field.

I must take some issue with Mr. Stansfield. Teacher certification and background checks, as well as testing like the Praxis Series, predate NCLB. These were not mandated by the law. In fact, the law encourages teachers to move out of their undergraduate majors and become certified through the test taking process. I do agree that a national certification based on a national test is no more a guarantee of teacher quality the the state to state system currently in force. I do believe that a national system of acrredidation for institutions that train teachers can be developed and that it is possible to create a nationally accepted credential.
NCLB does call for master teachers, highly qualified, but does not really create or mandate a method for qualifying these teachers.
NCLB does virtuallu nothing to improve education or teacher quality. The law calls on schools to use "what works" while advocating and mandating unproven methods, like "Reading First" and failed methods like standardized testing.

If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have had a different answer.

NCLB is like all mandates; a mixed bag. It is important to establish some standards and you have to start somewhere. For too long, districts have allowed unqualified teachers to teach subjects viewed as "extras" and expected teachers to know content or just follow the purchased curriculum rather than to ensure that teachers have quality training required to guide students as they construct understanding in content areas.

For too many years, ESL students were ignored because a district didn't have enough of them to fund a program or research what really works for those students. At least someone looks at how they are doing now.

I think teaching in a standards-based system requires a great deal of creativity on the part of teachers and ensures that we can have students learning in a system that has some real meaning as far as what students should know and do. We got to the point where a high school diploma could mean that a student successfully hung in there long enough to get one, rather that representing a specific level of learning.

Some of the tests certainly should be examined for validity. And teaching to a test is only a good thing if the test is a performance test that truly measures what it portends to measure. NCLB in an effort to be comprehensive, doesn't always measure growth or success.


I currently teach fifth grade in Lakewood WA. I hold a BS in Education from Auburn University Montgomery, an MS in Education from Antioch University Seattle, and I am a National Board Certified teacher (2005). NCLB in my opinion is a load of crap. It is ludicrous to expect children who can not speak, read, or write Englsh to successfully "master" English and pass state testing within 1 year. To count their scores (and SPED scores) as part of AYP is beyond my understandng. NCLB can't be a fair predictor of education standards when each state can develop their own standards for measuring students' successes. It is also extremely unfair to think that all children have the same levels of intelligence and can be held to the same standards. Then there are the children who are actually quite bright but very poor test takers (especially when the pressure to succeed is so monumental). I think as educators we can always improve in our methods of instruction so I don't mind the challenge of trying to make greater gains with my students. I do mind the pressure to "perform" placed on teachers, schools, and students. I also have to agree that teaching in suburban schools is startng to look extremely appealing. So are jobs outside of education. It is a shame that it could possibly come to that because there are some wonderful teachers out there and it would be a shame to lose them because our low paying, labor of love jobs have become unenjoyable, unrealistic, and unbearable.

NCLB has forced teachers to do something that has not been done before and that is to address the needs of every child. While not perfect, NCLB is also holding teachers accountable, which is something else that has been paled by the union.

If we are professionals, we should be held to high standards. There are too many diploma mills passing out teaching certs while not preparing those potential students for the realities of the classroom. Teachers have blamed society, the children, and administration for their failures and have gotten away with this for too long. There are too many examples of excellent teachers in high need schools who have been able to reach and teach their students. I believe NCLB is the first step in the major overhaul that our educational system needs and I fully support it.

NCLB has an honorable premise: yes we should all be accountable to all students, yes the achievement gap needs to be closed, yes we need to bring our schools up to the highest standards possible. However, working with low-income second language learners does not fit, cookie cutter-like, into the standards movement. My students, who are English language learners, are very bright and successful in many academic areas; unfortunately though they struggle with standardized testing in English. I am a National Board certified teacher and I have always enjoyed a feeling of success as a classroom teacher. But now NCLB is slowly chipping away at my morale. Isn't there a more practical way to ensure that all students are succeeding?

I teach students with autism in Florida. I have
varied Highly Qualified labels. As I remember the
process of meeting criteria, my college transcripts were carefully reviewed for subject area learning which
would show I successfully mastered content area which might be taught in the general curriculum.
My class focuses on basic functional learning and
behavioral management. That which served as grounds for declaring me highly qualified had little to no relevance to meeting the needs of
my students. It did, however, allow me to be considered highly qualified. Go figure.

Beginning Teacher Support Programs =QP-A-004 ? Opps,NCLB=Administrative Proceedures Violated ! Enter 4.100 Due Process !Licensing is a state issue decision and can not be appealed at the local level.Article 3 of chapter 150 B of the General Statutes. Conversion process 4.90 SB1 to SB11. Go HOUSSE ! 16 NCA 6c 0304 under PL 107-110 ! Go Obama and Clinton ! There is no teacher that would ever leave a child behind and monitor the Praxis 11 exam or get rid of it ! Go make learning fun and be creative in your classroom !Hooray we ended NCLB ! May the good lord help me keep my sense of humor after this NCLB !

The percentage average nationally for highly qualified is an A.Our teachers are highly qualified and yet we have a national percentage average of a D in public education under NCLB.

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  • Go Housse !: Beginning Teacher Support Programs =QP-A-004 ? Opps,NCLB=Administrative Proceedures Violated ! read more
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