And it's no wonder that teachers have a rough time when they're the ones being tested. A recent study by the American Institutes for Research showed that education majors had the lowest levels of practical literacy among college students. When asked to evaluate the arguments in a newspaper opinion article, such as this one, or summarize the results of an opinion survey, or compare credit card offers with different interest rates and fees, education majors scored at the bottom of the class. Education majors also have among the lowest SAT scores and do poorly on other measures of verbal and mathematical ability.
I've been hearing about teachers' low SAT scores since I was in high school. Does a recent study exist to show this--and by recent I mean one conducted in, oh, say the last 10 years. But that isn't my real bone to pick with her statement; rather, her statement might not apply to California because California hasn't offered bachelor's degrees in education in decades.
Granted, many or our elementary teachers may major in liberal studies, which no doubt are "liberal" in more ways than one. The idea there is to give a teacher a broad base of general knowledge, since elementary teachers teach several different subjects. Middle and high school teachers generally have a major, or at least a minor, in their subject area. Education/pedagogy classes are taken during a "5th year" of schooling after receipt of the bachelor's degree.
So comments like Chavez' above need a little clarification here in California. Are our teachers as stupid as everyone else's? Maybe, maybe not. But let's be accurate when throwing stones.
Here's more from her article:
It shouldn't be a surprise that teachers aren't measuring up. Teacher certification in most states has been a joke for years. In the District of Columbia, for example, teachers can be certified by scoring barely above the 20th percentile on the Praxis test, an exam used by 29 states to test who is fit to teach. The other states aren't much better, granting certification to teachers so long as they score above the bottom third of all test takers.
Yet the National Education Association, the largest union in the nation, has fought tougher standards all the way. Even the smaller American Federation of Teachers, which is usually a more sensible voice on education reform matters, has resisted re-testing veteran teachers so long as they've already met the abysmally low state certification requirements.
I'll agree that teacher certification is a joke. Certification, the hoops you have to jump through to get a teaching certificate, is entirely different from having "subject matter competence". Allow me to tell a brief tale of my own experience.
I went through an alternative credentialing program. It had some distant relationship with CSU Sacramento, but it was not conducted through the university. Because it was a 2-year internship program, I taught for two years while getting paid. Had I gone to a state school, I'd have had to attend school for a year and do part-time student teaching for no pay--as a single parent, my choice of programs was fairly obvious.
As I said, though, credentialing and subject matter competence are two different things; my credentialing program was all about pedagogy and the like and nothing about math. To prove to the state that I had some math competence, there were two possibilities:
1. either a UC or CSU school could bless my transcript from West Point, which would automatically grant me competence, or
2. I could take three tests--2 Praxis math tests and a single-subject (math) multiple guess test.
Had I gone to school here in California it would have been no trouble to get my home school to bless my transcript--after all, that school would have awarded me my math degree! They certainly wouldn't admit that it didn't give me enough knowledge to teach high school, so I would have had instant competence by virtue of having attended a school here in California. Seems a bit silly to me.
But I didn't go to school here in California. I called the math department at UC Davis, the nearest UC campus to my home, and they wouldn't even look at my transcript. If I didn't go to a UC school, they didn't want to hear from me. I got someone at CSU Sacramento to agree to look over my transcript, but he decided that my B.S. degree in applied math wasn't good enough--I'd need to take four, later cut down to three, additional math courses at CSUS in order to be considered competent.
I took the tests and passed. I didn't think the tests were all that easy or that California had set the passing bar too low, and I was well above the passing bar.
Back to Chavez' article. I'm not surprised that the teachers unions would resist teacher testing, are you? But why, Linda, would you think I need repeated testing over the years? That sounds to me like nothing more than a waste of money, and I don't see why I should waste my money on tests every few years. To be honest, I resent having to spend $70 or whatever it is every 5 years to renew my credential when that renewal shows I've done nothing more than teach for at least 6 months and have had 150 hours of professional development. Do you think I'm going to forget the math that I'm currently teaching? Why, exactly, should I be retested? It's one thing to be anti-teacher or anti-union, it's another not to make any sense with your point. I don't think Linda justifies why teachers should need continued subject matter testing throughout their careers. It's not like Algebra 2 is changing at all.
She does end by making sense, though. You often hear teachers talk about how it's just as important for a teacher to be able to convey knowledge as it is to have knowledge. That's true--teachers need both. One without the other is useless to students. Liping Ma, in Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, showed the importance of what she called "profound understanding of fundamental mathematics", something lacking in the American elementary teachers in her study. Put simply, you can't teach what you don't know. Chavez says:
How can we expect elementary and secondary students to improve their achievement when the men and women who teach them are so ill-prepared to impart the necessary skills? Much of the emphasis in NCLB -- and the criticism it has generated -- has been focused on the required testing of students. But it's hard to imagine how students can perform better unless we ensure that teachers know the subject matter in the first place.
It's true. But repeated testing of teachers, who unlike their students are not learning new material continuously, isn't the way to go. The correct solution is to ensure that certification/competence test scores are high enough to be meaningful, high enough to ensure that the teacher does have subject matter knowledge from the very beginning. That doesn't seem too unreasonable, does it?