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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To teach or not to teach? Is it even the question?

Slate claims that the U.S. has some of the lowest academic requirements for teachers in the developed world.  The article which summarizes a study presented in a book (Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move from Surviving to Thriving ) contains contradictory and confusing statements, like much of the journalism that purports to cover education.  

The article is accompanied by a world map which is designed to show the levels of education required among all the countries.  The map is indicative of the incoherence of the article, as it has color coding that shows the U.S. in a light shade of blue that is almost indistinguishable from another light shade of blue used in the map.   The confusing graphics are not outdone by the categories they represent.  The U.S. is put in a category of requirement labeled "Bachelor's degree"  with Canada and South America being a step higher requiring "Bachelor's degree with training."   Actually, the color coding in the book itself is much less confusing, but the categories are the same, and are as inadequate in representing requirements.  Teacher education programs in the U.S. require a bachelor's degree and most, perhaps all, require additional training in education methods and supervised training in an actual classroom.  The imprecise, rather slovenly, attempt to characterize education requirements in the U.S. contributes no substantive information about the qualifications possessed by the nation's teachers.  

The book on which the Slate article is based is not predominantly about teacher education, but has as its main focus how, despite formidable problems of poverty and social chaos in the world, education has significantly addressed those problems.  The article attempts to tie teacher education to America's alleged low standing in education, particularly in science and math, comparison with other countries.

The main source of the outpouring of concern about America's lagging achievement in education in world standing is from the Program for International Student Achievement( PISA.
It tests 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science.  Studies are beginning to point out the flaws and faults in using such studies for comparative purposes.  A Stanford University study summarizes those faults:

  • There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.
  • Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.
  • But the highest social class students in United States do worse than their peers in other nations, and this gap widened from 2000 to 2009 on the PISA.
  • U.S. PISA scores are depressed partly because of a sampling flaw resulting in a disproportionate number of students from high-poverty schools among the test-takers. About 40 percent of the PISA sample in the United States was drawn from schools where half or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program, though only 32 percent of students nationwide attend such schools.
It has been pointed out many times, but has fallen on profoundly deaf ears, that the U.S.  offers universal education which does not stream students into various curricula, especially courses of study that assume the students in them will never do any kind of intellectual work that requires academically developed skills.    Many countries do.  And they test only those students who are in the academic tracks.

This comparison of teacher preparation makes the same kind of error.  Most teacher education programs include those components that the Slate article says are lacking.  And many schools now make teacher education a five-year program with the fifth year devoted to an intensive internship.  Not all schools have the same program.  Not all states have the same requirements. 

About 20 years ago, shortages of teachers began to show up as schools did their hiring.  To meet the demand for teachers many colleges did lower the requirements for admission and retention in teacher education.  Many school districts ask for and received provision certification so that they could fill jobs with personnel who did not meet all the qualifications. Those stop-gap measures are still in effect in some places.  

Much of the criticism of education stems from a press that does not have people educated in educational theory and practice doing the reporting and commenting.

The Beacon contains recent posts about resigning teachers who have made stringent criticisms about the ruining of education.  One of them says he is not leaving the profession, but that the profession left him. 
Ending a profession

The question that is beginning to overwhelm teaching is why would any person of integrity and ambition to develop knowledge and skills in others want to go into teaching?  The profession has been attacked and denigrated on so many fronts that any person who has hopes to live a productive and dignified life can find no hope in teaching.  

At this juncture, if Americans know better than those who work at teaching every day how to deliver education.  they better start now.  There may soon be no profession to do it for them. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States