A banner headline in the Sunday, May 9 Minneapolis Star Tribune said there is no good way of knowing how many teachers are fired because of performance issues. However, the newspaper reports that by using the limited available statistical information and anecdotal information, it can conclude that few teachers are let go because of ineffective performance.
The story is interesting, but I think it misses one point. Minnesota’s higher education teacher preparation system has unfairly come under fire recently for producing what some say are poorly trained teachers. Their recruiting methods are questioned, their course rigor is being examined, and the post-hire success rate of their students is under scrutiny.
I think, however, that the Star Tribune article is proof of the effectiveness of the state’s mainstream teacher education programs. While every program deserves scrutiny, to say that Minnesota’s teacher education system is failing – as some are saying now – is wrong. Further, I think that attempts to alter that mainstream approach through alternative teacher licensure programs weakens our teacher corps.
Consider it this way: As an 18-year-old, a student declares a major in, say, science education. That student spends three years as a full-time student taking classes in science and classes in education, then spends a full semester or more in the classroom with a mentor teacher. Then the student passes the proficiency exams and, if lucky, finds a job. Then there is three years of probation during which the school district can fire the new teacher without much cause.
This is a complicated, years-long procedure that requires students to spend much time in a classroom before they are allowed to teach.
Compare this to alternative licensure: As an 18-year-old, a student chooses to major in, say, psychology. After earning a degree and finding that bills must be paid, the student joins a program like Teach for America where he attends classes for five weeks, passes proficiency exams and then is placed in front of a class.
But is the psychology major prepared to be in front of a classroom?
Tough teacher education standards put well-trained teachers in the classroom. This is a good thing and alternative teacher licensure programs that might look good on paper actually will allow more access to classrooms to people who are unprepared to teach.
There are many dedicated, highly trained teachers in Minnesota who became teachers through the state university system. Why would we want to mess with success?