NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Secretary Gives Teachers Low Marks

July 12, 2002

A report to Congress from Secretary of Education Rod Paige calls academic standards for U.S. public school teachers "appallingly low."

The report's data confirm his assessment:

  • Some 29 states use the Praxis Pre-Professional Skills Test to assess teachers' abilities in math, reading and writing.
  • Only Virginia sets the passing score at the national average in reading -- while in the rest of the states, teachers can "pass" the exam if they read below the national average.
  • Passing scores for Florida, Texas and the District of Columbia are set at below the 20th percentile -- and California requires that teachers pass a basic skills test set at only the 10th grade level.
  • Twenty-seven states have no requirement that teachers demonstrate mastery of the content of the subjects they are hired to teach -- the results of teachers' colleges emphasizing how to teach, not what to teach.

A further problem is outdated certification systems that simultaneously maintain low standards and high barriers. Paige endorses alternative-certification programs that welcome candidates from other professions who don't meet traditional criteria -- but whom states scare off with demands of needless theoretical "education" courses.

To address the problem of teacher shortages, New York has its Teaching Fellows Program, which bypasses teachers' colleges and brings true professionals into classrooms in highest-need districts. Observers describe the program as "incredibly successful."

Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit program that places recent liberal arts graduates in failing schools, is reportedly another success story. Paige says there is evidence TFA teachers "may in fact elicit greater academic gains from their students than non-TFA teachers."

Source: Editorial, "A Better Class of Teachers," Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2002.


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