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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
December 1, 2000
Vol. 58
No. 4

Creating a High-Quality Teaching Force

From creating new licensing standards to offering advanced certification, the teaching profession has developed a system to ensure quality—even in the face of teacher shortages.

Teacher quality is on the national agenda as never before. We finally recognize that the teacher is the single most important school-based determinant of student learning. That fact accords not only with every parent's common sense, but also with research. How do we ensure that every classroom has a qualified teacher?

Building a System

For the past decade, the teaching profession has been hard at work building a system of quality assurance that will increase the likelihood that every child is taught by a caring, competent, and qualified teacher. We are now noticing the results.
  • Advanced certification. The first element is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). The Board was created in 1987 by the teaching profession, with help from the Carnegie Corporation, businesses, and the federal government, to provide advanced certification to accomplished teachers—a type of recognition never before available to teaching professionals. Previously, once teachers began their careers, they had no widely accepted mechanism for achieving professional and public recognition. The Board certification creates new career options for teachers and encourages excellent teachers to remain in the classroom. The Board also generated a consensus definition of accomplished teaching and an accepted means for measuring it, giving the lie to those who maintained that accomplished teaching is too idiosyncratic to be measured. Many institutions are revising their master's programs to be consistent with the Board's standards and assessments.
  • Licensing standards. Building on the experience of the NBPTS, California and Connecticut launched an initiative to develop model state-licensing standards that states could use to reform the teacher-licensing process. Known as the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and now operated by the Council of Chief State School Officers, these standards help states develop systems that assess the knowledge and skills of graduates as a condition for attaining a license. Not long ago, teachers were given a license merely on the basis of seat time and graduation, without having to demonstrate knowledge, skill, or the ability to teach.
  • Curriculum standards. Beginning in the mid-1980s, a number of national professional associations began to develop standards for preK–12 students. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, working with committees of school and university faculty, created a national professional consensus about what students should know and be able to do at various ages and grade levels. Other associations followed suit. For the first time in history, professional associations have a comprehensive set of expectations across the full range of the curriculum. So profound is this development that it has come to be called the standards movement.
  • Alignment. There is a growing consensus to align the standards for accreditation, initial licensing, and advanced certification. Before 1990, accreditation and licensing authorities did not coordinate their activities, and, of course, the NBPTS did not exist. The result was a cacophony of standards and expectations—effectively meaning that there were no standards. In 1995, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) began to incorporate INTASC's model state-licensing principles into its standards and continues to do so in the 2000 standards. Thus, NCATE and the states hold colleges of education accountable for producing candidates who have the same knowledge and skills that the states require for licensing individual candidates. This symmetrical relationship will strengthen accreditation and licensing. Additionally, NCATE has aligned teacher preparation standards with national standards for preK–12 students and with National Board standards for advanced certification. This alignment will revolutionize the quality-assurance system.
  • Accreditation. Until the late 1980s, NCATE and the states did not collaborate in the review of teacher preparation programs. As of 2000, 45 states and the District of Columbia have integrated NCATE's professional review of colleges of education with their own reviews, thereby strengthening the evaluations of teacher preparation in a growing number of institutions. Although NCATE accreditation remains voluntary in most states, a substantial number of new institutions are seeking NCATE accreditation. Seventeen states now require NCATE accreditation for their public institutions, and many states now use NCATE standards, whether or not they require institutions to gain NCATE accreditation. New York, Maryland, and Alaska have recently passed legislation requiring accreditation.
  • Professional development schools. One of the most promising ideas for strengthening teacher preparation—professional development schools (PDSs)—did not even take shape until the late 1980s. Like the teaching hospital in the field of medicine, the PDS is designed to more fully integrate academic and clinical preparation for beginning teachers. Policymakers and educators recognize that beginning teachers and teacher candidates require more support than the truncated clinical experience of a four-year undergraduate program affords. As many as 1,000 PDSs now operate. To help support this new structure, NCATE is working with 20 pilot institutions to set new expectations for clinical practice. States and institutions are using NCATE's draft standards for professional development schools.
  • State standards boards. Until 1990, only three states had experimented with professional standards boards—boards made up mainly of members of the profession charged with establishing and implementing standards for teacher licensing. As of 2000, 12 more state legislatures created independent professional state standards boards. Unlike state boards of education, which have myriad other responsibilities, professional state standards boards have as their overriding concern the implementation of standards and assessments that will result in high-quality teachers in their states.

Making A Difference

The teaching profession has been hard at work developing the elements of the new systems of teacher development and quality assurance, all of which include NCATE involvement or leadership. Is there evidence of progress?
A recent study by Educational Testing Service (ETS) shows that NCATE-accredited institutions produce proportionally more-qualified teachers than nonaccredited institutions. ETS examined 270,000 candidates who took the PRAXIS II licensing exam between 1995 and 1997 in the content area that they planned to teach and who had also taken the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). ETS divided the candidates into three groups: graduates of NCATE-accredited institutions, graduates of non-NCATE institutions, and candidates who had never entered a teacher-preparation program.
Of all the candidates who took the PRAXIS II licensing exam, designed by ETS and administered in 37 states and the District of Columbia, graduates of NCATE-accredited institutions significantly outperformed those from unaccredited institutions, and both groups significantly outperformed those who had never prepared as a teacher but who took the exam.
The ETS study provides some quantitative evidence that this reform is making a difference. As we continue to implement the reform, we can anticipate that the quality of the teaching force will rise.

The Choice We Have

The seven elements of the teaching profession's new quality-assurance system were developed because the existing traditional systems clearly do not provide the level of quality assurance that the public and policymakers now demand. But the system needs support; its development can move quickly or slowly depending on the degree to which university leaders, policymakers, and education professionals develop the kind of trust that now exists between the state and the quality-assurance mechanisms of other established professions.
The movement to professionalize teaching is growing at the same time that other powerful forces are making an impact on education. Among these are the impending shortage of teachers, the integration of technology into schools, and the movement to deregulate schooling through charter schools and vouchers. What are the likely effects of these trends on the movement to professionalize teaching?
A shortage of teachers in some specializations and geographic areas could jeopardize the movement to increase teacher quality. The most popular policymaker response is to deregulate entry into teaching to produce an adequate supply of "teachers" in the classroom. This response has two effects. First, it yields a supply of unqualified teachers, almost all of whom are assigned to poor and minority schoolchildren. The result, all too often, is low-quality instruction for those children who most need high-quality, well-prepared teachers. Second, deregulation sets in motion a chain of events that lowers the overall quality of the teaching force because it reduces the incentive for quality preparation. Why work hard to prepare when easy routes are available and compensation and treatment are the same?
We can reconcile professionalization with the growing demand for teachers in one of two ways. First, assuming little structural change in schooling, we can increase salaries and incentives to the level necessary to attract and retain sufficient numbers of candidates. This is a classic market solution to labor shortages in every field and discipline.
Second, we can differentiate the teaching force. In a differentiated staffing structure, with corresponding levels of compensation, qualified teachers supervise those without proper qualifications. This is already occurring in a rudimentary way—such as when teachers certified by the National Board receive mentoring assignments. A teacher team might include Board-certified teachers, fully licensed teachers, beginning interns, teacher candidates, and those with little or no preparation. Individuals would have distinct titles and different pay scales. This structure provides a career ladder for highly qualified teachers who stay in teaching, and it gives districts a way to fulfill staffing needs with integrity. The structure rewards those teachers who invest time, money, and effort in their own professional development. Many school districts currently pay the same salary to qualified and unqualified personnel, creating a disincentive for individuals to prepare.
A differentiated staffing structure allows for different and appropriate levels of compensation, thus keeping the overall expenditure on salaries in check. Most important, it provides for accountability by ensuring that the responsibility for every child's instruction is in the hands of qualified personnel. It also provides training for less-qualified personnel.
In addition, a truth-in-labeling law would recognize qualified, competent, well-prepared individuals. Only those who have met a state's requirements for a teaching license would be known by the title teacher. Others whom school districts must hire to fill classrooms would get another designation. Already in Texas, parents must be notified if their children are taught by an un-licensed or out-of-field teacher for more than 30 consecutive days. In Florida, parents must also be notified when teachers are assigned out-of-field. Other states could follow suit.
Just as patients know the difference between health-care professionals and health-care workers—for example, the differences among a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, and a nurse's aide—the U.S. public has a right to know who has prepared to teach and who has not. This information, when made public, will give us a clearer picture of who is teaching in our nation's schools and help us decide how much we want to invest to attain teacher quality for our children.
Next, the integration of technology is clearly impending. Although technology has altered some classrooms, it has had minimal, if any, impact on the structure of the teaching force. How might technology influence the professionalization of teaching? At one level, technology can enhance the effectiveness of qualified teachers. At another level, technology raises questions about the most effective use of teachers' time, the proper substitution of technology-mediated instruction, the management of noninstructional activities, and the proper mix of teachers and technology experts. In other words, technology could lead to a restructuring of the teaching force; teachers would be responsible for student learning but would draw on other personnel as appropriate for tasks requiring other kinds of expertise. Technology can enhance teacher quality through a growing differentiation of the teaching force.
Finally, how might the deregulation of schooling through vouchers and charter schools intersect with the movement to professionalize teaching? Generally, the proponents of the deregulation of schooling favor the deregulation of teaching. In some cases, proponents have legislated to allow unprepared personnel into charter schools. Most states do not require licensure for private school teaching, although most private school teachers are licensed. Thus, the deregulation of schooling at first seems incompatible with professionalization.
Paradoxically, the deregulation of schooling could and should demand a stronger state role in ensuring that teachers are qualified for their work. Most professionals other than teachers work in private settings, yet the state maintains a strong interest in the quality of those professionals. Accreditation and licensing are the norms in medicine, law, and other professions because the state wishes to ensure that these professionals are qualified. If schooling is deregulated, there should be an even stronger state interest in ensuring the quality of personnel. Thus, deregulation could potentially strengthen the movement to professionalize teaching.

Ensuring Quality

The current mixed strategy of simultaneously regulating and deregulating teaching will not raise the overall quality of the teaching force. This dysfunctional system will increase inequality between the educational haves and have-nots. As teacher shortages grow, more unqualified people will fill classrooms. However, if we choose to support the movement to strengthen the teaching force, we can build a system that is suited to today's needs for high student achievement.

Arthur Wise has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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