The following by Professor David Chard, dean of SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, first appeared in the November 26, 2012, edition of The Dallas Morning News.
November 30, 2012
By David Chard
As 2012 draws to a close, we stand on the edge of the fiscal cliff, feeling much in our lives is uncertain. How do we create a future with better prospects? Perhaps there’s no better time than now to discuss what we owe our nation’s children: a high-quality education. After all, our future lies with students learning to make difficult decisions, thoughtfully allocating limited resources and understanding their world so they can lead us to promising days.
When we look at improving education, our highest priority must be to place top-notch teachers in the classroom. If a child has a great teacher for several consecutive years, his or her learning trajectory is likely to be successful. However, one ineffective teacher can reverse a student’s achievement, making it difficult to turn around.
Unfortunately, the future of our teaching workforce is also uncertain. According to the National Center on Education Statistics:
- Nearly a fifth of public school teachers are older than 55 and nearing retirement.
- Schools will experience record student enrollment at least through 2018.
- Teachers in their first three years of teaching are quitting in higher numbers than usual.
To add to the challenge, evidence suggests that there’s a growing likelihood of a break in the teacher supply line. Erroneous impressions about fewer jobs and continual criticisms of public education may turn potential teachers away from the classroom.
In California, a bellwether state on education matters, the Center on the Future of Teaching and Learning reports that enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped by nearly 50 percent and the number of new teacher certifications issued by the state has dropped by nearly 35 percent since 2004. In Texas, we continue to experience perennial shortages in critical areas such as mathematics, science, bilingual education and special education.
So what can we do to solve this problem? First, we must provide teachers with the best preparation and ongoing professional development available. Second, we must be certain that teachers don’t see their profession as a dead end; there must be opportunities to advance within their field.
To ensure our teachers are of the highest quality and are well-prepared, we might look at how Finland approached a similar challenge over 30 years ago. Finland is now one of the top performing countries on international assessments of academic achievement and attributes much of this success to the way it has “re-professionalized” teaching.
Finland’s teachers are selected from the highest-achieving group of university graduates and are prepared with three core areas in mind: content knowledge (what they will be expected to teach), content knowledge for teaching (the specific knowledge and skills necessary to lead students to higher levels of understanding within a particular domain) and a deep understanding of learning sciences (human behavior and the human brain). In addition, their pay is commensurate with that of similarly prepared professions, and they are expected to perform at high levels.
In contrast, many of the regulations governing teacher preparation here have developed over several decades without reconstituting the big picture. We need to be sure that what we require to prepare teachers is still necessary.
One of the reasons teachers leave the classroom prematurely is that they don’t see any opportunity for advancement. In fact, the only way to be promoted as a teacher is to move out of the classroom into administration or out of the profession altogether. We need promotion opportunities for teachers that will reward them for their contributions.
Ongoing teacher professional development, including enhanced incentives for achieving master’s degrees in core teaching areas, and creating opportunities to increase rank within classrooms would give teachers greater authority and responsibility to lead schools.
With the Texas Legislature beginning a new session in January, educators and community members can insist on refashioning policies for good recruitment and retention of teachers. There’s no sense to keep standing on a cliff.
# # #