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New report: Improve Georgia teacher training in math, reading


The National Council on Teacher Quality contends uneven and insufficient teacher preparation contributed to the flat scores this week on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Read about NAEP scores here.)

Two days after the release of the 2017 NAEP scores -- a test that provides an ongoing audit of how American students are performing -- NCTQ published its review of 567 traditional graduate school programs, 129 alternative route programs and 18 teacher residency programs in which candidates learn in real classroom environments.

The review, which included 15 Georgia programs, faults the screening process for candidates, who often have content gaps the programs aren’t designed to remediate.

The report identifies a deficiency also cited this week during a NAEP-sponsored panel on why U.S. students lag in reading skills: Teachers are not being trained adequately to teach children how to read.

The report explains:

No one applying to a post-baccalaureate program to be a teacher will come in knowing how to teach reading. It’s something the programs must teach. And both graduate and alternative route programs struggle to do so. While there has been some improvement — 23 percent provide scientifically based reading instruction now as opposed to 15 percent in 2014 — fully three quarters still fail to teach these methods.

The report advises:

Reading proficiency underpins all later learning. Unfortunately, some 30 percent of all children do not become capable readers.12 Using the knowledge gained from decades of research, research under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health has shown that this unacceptable rate of failure could be cut by two-thirds or even more, if only schools used scientifically based methods of reading instruction.

Nor are grad and alternative programs readying elementary school teachers to teach math. The report warns:

Just one percent of the 201 graduate elementary programs cover the critical topics elementary teachers need including numbers and operations; algebra; geometry; and data and probability. This figure compares unfavorably with the coverage of undergraduate programs coverage that stands at 13 percent as of 2016. The systematically poor preparation of elementary teachers in mathematics may stand as one of the most staggering weaknesses in teacher preparation, contributing to the chronically low standing of American schoolchildren in mathematics internationally. The lack of appropriate content in this area may well be attributed to a false assumption that mathematics coursework aimed only at teachers would imply coursework that is too easy, in spite of clear guidance to the contrary by mathematicians, math associations such as NCTM and the practices of other nations.

Among the findings that NCTQ says contribute to the sluggish NAEP results:

The presumption of sufficient content knowledge is apparent for those programs preparing elementary teachers. Only a small percent of traditional graduate elementary programs conduct the necessary screening to assess if applicants know the subject matter taught in elementary schools. 

The presumption of knowledge is most pronounced in the mathematics knowledge needed by elementary teachers. There is widespread consensus among experts, reinforced by how other countries prepare their elementary teachers, that they need specific math content to teach children. Few programs address this specific need. 

While most secondary programs quite capably prepare middle and high school teachers in a single subject such as English or history, they struggle to prepare candidates in broader areas such as “general science” and “social studies.” The problem is exacerbated by states using licensing tests that are too broad in scope and therefore are not able to identify major gaps in essential knowledge.

Of the 15 Georgia programs that were evaluated: 

Highest ranked elementary programs (national percentile out of 194 programs):

Mercer University (60th)

Augusta University (53rd)

Highest ranked secondary programs (national percentile out of 406 programs):

Berry College (87th)

Brenau University (87th)

University of Georgia (84th)

Clayton State University (79th)

Augusta University (77th)

Mercer University (75th)

The highest marks went to programs that adhere to strong admission criteria, provide candidates with content knowledge and instructional techniques and create opportunities to practice teach.

The full list of Georgia’s graduate and alternative route programs can be found here.

Key Findings for Georgia

Programs’ preparation of elementary teachers is uneven.

One of the two elementary programs reviewed, Mercer University, provides basic instruction in how to teach young children to read. In the national sample, 23 percent do so. 

None of the elementary programs reviewed attend to the specific math content elementary teachers need. Nationally, just 1 percent of programs provide such content, under the mistaken impression that elementary mathematics does not require specialized coursework. 

Programs either presume subject matter knowledge in science and social studies or discount its importance, as none of the programs reviewed in Georgia adequately screen elementary candidates for content knowledge in these subjects. Eighteen percent do so nationally.

High school teacher preparation is better, though the results are still mixed. 

Programs offering general science certification, which permits teachers to teach multiple science subjects, struggle to adequately screen candidates or require the necessary coursework. None of the five programs with general science certification ensure teachers hold the necessary content knowledge. Twenty-five percent of programs do so nationally. 

Georgia effectively ensures adequate content knowledge for all social studies teachers through state policy that limits social studies certifications to individual subjects such as biology, instead of allowing teachers to obtain a general certification that allows them to teach all sciences.

All high school teachers should take a course in the best ways to teach their specific subject. With 77 percent of programs requiring such coursework, Georgia slightly exceeds the national rate of 70 percent.

With all the emphasis on providing teacher candidates with more and better practice, of the 17 Georgia programs evaluated only Berry College pays sufficient attention to basic indicators of quality such as the teaching skills of the classroom mentor and providing regular observations and feedback to each candidate. The national average in this area is 6 percent. The need to build classroom management skills is similarly overlooked, with only Augusta University’s programs (15 percent of Georgia programs evaluated, the same as the national rate) adequately verifying the competency of candidates.

An analysis of the findings can be found here.

Recommendations for Georgia:

Focus relentlessly on the need for future elementary teachers to be ready to teach reading and math, the two most important aspects of their job. 

Prescreen applicants to make sure they already know the core content they will teach—or be prepared to prescribe the necessary remediation. 

Programs should better use student teaching and internships as an opportunity to give constructive, targeted feedback on specific classroom management strategies that are found to be universally effective.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.