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Maher: Raising Standards While Making the Profession Less Desirable

This is a guest post from Michael Maher [@mj_maher], who works at the NC State College of Education:

Nc_stateI’m not one to decry higher standards, for teachers and teacher education, but one has to wonder how we will continue to staff public school classrooms as North Carolina further disincentivizes the profession while increasing standards for future teachers.  

Here’s a little bit of what the NC General Assembly has done this legislative session that impacts public school teachers:

  1. Elimination of tenure in favor of contracts up to 4 years (with performance measures not yet defined)
  2. No raises again this year:  teachers have received a 1% raise over the past 5 years, resulting in NC slipping to 48th in average teacher salary in America
  3. Elimination of supplemental pay for master’s degrees
  4. Reduction in teacher assistant funding by 21%.  Some schools use 2 TA positions to fund 1 teaching position.  This results in larger class sizes.
  5. Phase out of the NC Teaching Fellows Program while funding Teach For America at $12 million.

At the same time, we see a push toward raising standards, including a series of new tests and requirements for teacher preparation programs. 

To be admitted to a teacher preparation program, students will now be required to complete the new Praxis I Pre Professional Skills Test.  According to ETS, these tests have been designed to be a “more rigorous and comprehensive series of Assessments”. 

Additionally, to be licensed as an elementary or special education teacher, graduates will be required to complete the new North Carolina Foundations of Reading/General Curriculum tests .  The new tests, based on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure, have been deemed decidedly more rigorous than the existing Praxis II tests.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in high standards and accountability for teachers and schools.  Becoming a teacher should be a rigorous process, and we should be doing all we can to entice our “best and brightest” into the profession. 

But in order to do that, we need to provide our teachers with the best possible teaching and learning environments, incentivize entrance and continuing education (graduate degrees and scholarship programs), and pay them like professionals. -- MM @mj_maher 


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I can't believe they shut down NCTFP and kept funding TFA. This is very sad indeed. I have long believed that TFA harms schools by creating a revolving door for teachers who are not dedicated to the profession. Many TFAers have little clue how to manage a class or make it through a school day. After we invest our time and money to help them become effective educators, they leave. Why would a veteran teacher want to stay at a school where every year they mentor a new person who will leave within the year? How can a school build community that way?

Why don't we pour all our resources: mentoring, community building, student loan forgiveness, scholarships for training and licensing, into those who want to teach as a career? TFA gets millions that we could use to fund these programs.

TFA often makes the argument that no career teacher would want the jobs their corps members take. If a career teacher could expect community, support, respect for their profession and mentorship, I suspect they would take those jobs happily.

Good stuff, and one of my hobby horses: the attractiveness of a profession should be evaluated in aggregate. If you're holding pay constant and then making the work less pleasant - reducing job security, say - then you're going to hurt your labor supply.

One quibble: MA incentives are probably not a good way to attract teachers. The utility of an MA is pretty questionable - I say this as someone with an MA from a perfectly reputable university - and the profession would probably be more attractive to people if we just used that money to increase salaries rather than insisting on an additional hoop for the pay bump.

How about just requiring an MA in general and not having to pay anyone less for the lack of it?

@navigio - Requiring an MA means setting up an additional barrier to entry into the profession, which means restricting the supply of teachers, esp. those individuals less able to dedicate the time and resources into jumping through that hoop.

If there was evidence that MAs mattered a lot, it might make sense to require them for all teachers. However, the evidence suggests that they matter very little, if at all.

If an MA matters very little, why does Finland, with the best education system in the world, require them of their teachers AND pay for their teachers' education all the way to the MA level? Obviously, the MA matters.

I think the issue is that while we "know" the MA matters, it's really the specific type of MA that's more important. The research tends to lump all master's degrees together rather than separating them out so what happens, for example, is we put a Master's of Liberal Studies, MBA, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Education in Science Education together as though they are all equivalent in the classroom. I think an important next step is for Colleges of Education, like my own, to conduct research that disaggregates these degree types to determine whether there is actual differential impact. The problem has been however, that we have had little to no access to classroom level impact data for our graduates (or any teachers for that matter).

I think raising the standards for graduate students in the education field is a great idea. Parents are usually concerned about their children attaining the best education possible. A lot of parents nowadays don't want their kids in public schools anymore and would rather pay to be accepted into a private or charter school system. Certain students aren't being challenged and are above their peers. To rectify this issue, I believe the new idea being implemented about graduate students taking a curriculum test in order to be a great teacher is very beneficial for the students and the school systems.

It does not make sense to 'level' the preparation of teachers by reducing their level of education to the lowest common denominator, especially given the mantra of how important college degrees will be in the future. Allowing the teaching profession to raise its entrance standards would force an associated increase in compensation. To me, that's the real barrier to teacher entry: the inability to be able to currently consider teaching as anything but a second earner job in many places. Reducing entry reqs could never solve that and would only exacerbate it.
I also don't believe any current research on the value of masters is objective. These usually come from people or groups who think teachers make too much money and want to figure out ways to reduce the 'burden' of teachers on taxpayers. Furthermore, the type of degree likely matters.
An additional solution might be to continue to maintain the differential, but only pay teachers extra with subject masters who are teaching in environment where that subject is being taught, eg a secondary setting. So a masters or phd in physics wouldn't get the addition if they just taught in lower grade elementary, but would if they taught a physics class in high school, for example.

@navigio Yes, if you look at some of my earlier posts you will see that I am in favor of higher standards for teachers and also believe that this is likely the only way to improve salaries for those in places like North Carolina.

Also, in NC it was initially the case that the only individuals with Master's degrees who received the additional compensation were those that taught related subjects. If their Master's came with an advanced teaching license or as in the case you suggested someone with a degree in physics who happens to be teaching physics. Somewhere along the line, however, folks began making the case that advanced degrees were about "capacity" and when that happened they could challenge and were often given the additional compensation. For example, one would argue that their degree in physics lead to a greater understanding of mathematics and they teach mathematics in the elementary school so they should be compensated. And they were.

My master of science wasn't a hoop. It was a wonderful (and well-earned) adventure, which refreshed and strengthened my teaching. It "paid for itself" in three years. I'm sure some degrees are crap, but in my experience people aren't seeking those out.

I hate to think this anti-intellectual weasel argument will succeed in depriving younger teachers of the chance to pursue their own graduate education. What a loss for them, their students, and our whole society.

Yes, Mary, I would agree with you. I think for many earning the Master's degree is not a hoop. It's a professional development opportunity. The anti-intellectual movement, both nationally and here in NC is very disheartening. Hopefully, we see some changes in the near future.

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