NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Standards For Teachers

February 18, 1999

Education Secretary Richard Riley has proposed licensing teachers at three levels -- teachers who are new, those already teaching and teacher volunteers. While mandatory federal licensing probably isn't in the political cards, education experts say there is abundant evidence that the states need to do more to screen out the deadwood in classrooms.

  • When Pennsylvania evaluated its teacher testing, it discovered that teachers could qualify for positions in hard-to-fill subjects just by signing their name.
  • In Hawaii, half of new hires failed either to complete or pass certification exams.
  • In Long Island, N.Y., a superintendent who decided to give teaching applicants an English test normally given to 11th-graders discovered that only one in four could pass.
  • Among the 21 states using the Praxis I math test to screen teachers, most of them set "cut" scores so low that applicants could miss 40 percent of questions and still pass.

Experts note that superintendents and teaching colleges tend to concentrate on the art of teaching -- at the expense of knowledge of content. Forty-four states require teachers to pass pedagogy tests, but only 21 require content tests.

One study nearing completion at the Education Trust looks at those 21 states, comparing what high school students are supposed to know in math and English to what prospective teachers must know to pass certification tests. The two groups' test scores were about equal.

Source: Editorial, "A Fresh Idea for Locking Weak Teachers Out of School," USA Today, February 18, 1999.


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