Failing teachers

Philadelphia’s middle school teachers are having trouble showing they’re qualified to teach their subjects. Many are former elementary teachers who aren’t subject-matter specialists. Half of the “district’s 690 middle school teachers who took exams in math, English, social studies and science in September and November failed,” reports the Inquirer. Nearly two-thirds of middle school math teachers failed the exam.

The district will offer test prep classes to teachers who have to retake the exams, and will try to hire people who know math to teach math.

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Comments

  1. Good luck finding people who know math to teach math! (Hint: you may have to look in foreign countries to find all the graduates with degrees in mathematics)

  2. Someone tell me if I’m reading too much into this. The article talks about testing middle-school teachers in math to ensure that they can teach it properly, so presumably they are testing 8th grade math skills, not calculus or anything advanced.
    One of the more common def’ns of functional illiteracy is not being able to function at a grade 8 level. So is the article saying that half of the district’s 690 middle school teachers are functionally illiterate?

  3. D. Cooper says:

    To be sure this is disturbing….but, I’d think that the vast majority of students leaving college who are ‘good’ in mathematics do not persue careers in education, nor ever intended to. In most parts of the country the pay is not competitive and the prestige is on the wane, or so it seems if the comments bantered about here are representative. It’s a pretty well know fact that even in area where teachers are well paid, shortages of math and science teachers exist.

    And, don’t look to foreign countries either (insourcing I guess) I’m not so sure they’d want the abuse either.

  4. Well… I do believe teacher’s unions prevent math & science teachers be paid more than English teachers. It’s all about the credentials and seniority.

    Their best bet is to make the profession attractive to retirees. Some of the best teachers I had (in math and anything else) were people retired from other professions: my trig teacher was a retired engineer — HE could answer the perennial whine “When will we ever use this?”

    Part of the mushiness of the profession, though, is that women with math/science skills are no longer restricted to education. A person of my abilities would probably have been expected to teach high school math 40 years ago. It’s not just the money — I also get a =lot= more respect as a low-level actuarial assistant than I ever did as a teacher.

  5. D. Cooper says:

    Meep, I guess you’ve touched on a little bit of the problem regarding respect. I am now a retired mathematics teacher and can relate to that whine … it invariably translates into this is difficult or I don’t understand. My answer was …’do you want fries with that?’

    As for paying Math and science teachers more is a bit touchy. But I’d certainly agree that certain teachers might be deserving of a differential. I don’t think that the Home and Careers (as is sewing and cooking) tract is quite as demanding. But being that as it may, something needs to be done to attract people in those areas.

    I will say however, that as a high school mathematics and programming teacher that there was respect given albeit on some days, some students could rain on the parade so to speak. That’s what umbrellas are for. And, IMO…I’d not want to correct all those English essays and term papers.

  6. As a foreign language teacher in a state w/high stakes math and English testing, I’m on record as advocating higher pay for these teachers — at least in my state. Why not? They’re the ones w/all the headaches and pressure w/the state tests, and let’s face it — their subjects are the most important for kids.

  7. D. Cooper says:

    You go Dave … what about retroactive pay?

  8. Coop: I wouldn’t really care. Here I am teaching my Spanish classes — no mandated mid-term or final (yet), no state test, pretty much free to follow the [loose] curriculum as I please…and then there’s the math and English teachers who’re always swamped w/work, always working on sample state test questions, always afterschool w/kids getting them prepared, always dealing w/concerned parents. God bless ’em!

    I actually feel guilty, even though I have no control over the pay matter.

  9. Peter Zawilski says:

    Regarding Mr. Huber’s comment. Spanish knowledge or any other foreign language should be important as well. There should be testing in this subject as well. European educated students generally are fluent in several languages. Why not USA students? Especially in the era of NAFTA, we should be generating bilingual graduates who can speak and write well two languages, as well as be competent in the math and science.
    My late mother, in Estonia during the 1920s and 1930s (before the Soviet occupation), had learned her native language, Estonian and three foreign languages, English, German, and Russian. She was fluent in Estonian, English and German and could read and understand Russian–but refused to speak it, for obvious reasons. Those language skills enabled her to survive in post-War Europe, England, Canada, and ultimately the United States. A side-benefit to learning a foreign language is that one often learns his native langauge better; he actually understands what the terms, “noun,” “verb,”, “adjective,” etc. mean and can make references back and forth between the multiple languages.

    Education should be broad-based. Fluency in many subjects also would include the arts, which seem to be the first to go when the budgets decline.

  10. Kirk Parker says:

    > As for paying Math and science teachers more is a bit touchy…
    >I don’t think that the Home and Careers … trac[k] is quite as demanding.

    Has no one here ever heard of supply and demand? If there’s a shortage of math teachers then obviously one solution is to offer more money for them. The suggestion that some board somewhere would come up with pay differentials based on abstract differences in difficulty is not surprising, but it is one that would make economists laugh out loud.

  11. Dave — actually, foriegn language instruction supports English instruction, especially in terms of grammar and vocabulary. When I teach grammar, it is fun to see the lightbulbs go off in kids taking other languages — especially the kids taking Latin.

  12. D. Cooper says:

    Kirk… here I Long Island, I’m a personal friend of a superintendant who had permission from his school board to offer candidates more years of service than was policy (not necessarily contractural) in order to fill positions. It is my understanding that this is fairly common practice here.

    NYS has also talked about relaxing policies regarding retired math and science teachers to reenter the classroom without jepordizing their pensions. This would of course be tantamount to a pay differential.

    So, there is some incidence of what you speak.

  13. Rita: I’m aware of that, but my point is that I’m not feeling any “pressure” while my English (and math) teaching colleagues are. Whether or not I *should* feel the pressure isn’t my point. State bigwigs haven’t decided to put the “heat” on FL teachers yet. When (if) they do, then I’ll certainly support giving ME more $$ too!

    Mr. Zawilski: I understand your point and ultimately support it; however, I read an interesting piece by Jay Nordlinger here which makes the case why Americans really don’t need to know FLs like their European counterparts. Certainly, Spanish is becoming more and more necessary here in the US, however.

  14. Are Master’s degrees from “real” Ed. schools any more meaningful?

  15. D. Cooper says:

    Bruce … yes. Is everyone here a cynic?

  16. I see what you’re saying, DaveH. I think market systems are problematic, though. Compared to Math and Science, we have a glut of English teachers, which should make us less valuable; however, an English teacher’s work load is easily more than that of a Math teacher (all those essays…). I’m not sure I’d be very happy about making less money for doing more work. I might even join the union over that.

  17. John Thacker says:

    It’s a very true point (and one I’ve made before as well), that expanded opportunities for women have made it a lot harder to get qualified teachers. Now, these sorts of tests, if they actually go through with them and stick by the results, will lead to higher teacher salaries– school boards will have to pay more in order to get qualified teachers. Raising the pay without the standards won’t necessarily help. I think lots of people initially resistant to just increased teacher pay would go along with it if it went with higher qualifications. Not knowing the material is just shameful.

    Teacher tests are also a possible substitute for testing students.

  18. linda seebach says:

    Teachers in the Denver Classroom Teachers Association voted last week for a new pay system that would allow the district to offer premiums for hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill positions (along with a lot of other incentives)
    link:
    http://ww2.scripps.com/cgi-bin/archives/denver.pl?DBLIST=rm04&DOCNUM=6975
    (which needs to be all on one line in your browser, and the hyphen is real))

  19. Well,again may I mention that the answer to most
    of the problems teachers,districts and education
    in general encounter can be sovlved by demanding
    that a set K-12 curriculum be installed. This includes pay also and will definitely help the teacher shortage, especially in math.

    As to the shortage of math teachers and other
    teachers yes the pay should be better. And as to
    respect-it’s difficult to get respect without an
    overall plan that all adhere to. This will bring in plenty of teachers. The pay for teachers isn’t all that bad but it really feels
    bad and seems bad when one is working where almost all are running around with no coherent
    plan in which they proudly believe.

    A set, coherent curriculum also takes care of the
    heirarchy of pay problem. A well planned K-12
    curriculum sets in motion what teachers of all
    subjects at all levels will be doing, and what
    their work levels will be. Therefore, teachers get paid according to the work load.

    However, the biggest benefit to a set k-12 curriculum that is agreed to and taken on by
    all is that you can pass students and fail students knowing that you are as close to absolutely right as possible and you will then
    have the wherewithall to stand behind your evaluations. Then teachers will become as surgeons with a knife in hand and believe me,you
    will get much higher pay. And you will get RESPECT.

    European teachers have been applying this for years on end. They are paid well and they get
    respect.

  20. Well,again may I mention that the answer to most
    of the problems teachers,districts and education
    in general encounter can be sovlved by demanding
    that a set K-12 curriculum be installed. This includes pay also and will definitely help the teacher shortage, especially in math.

    As to the shortage of math teachers and other
    teachers yes the pay should be better. And as to
    respect-it’s difficult to get respect without an
    overall plan that all adhere to. This will bring in plenty of teachers. The pay for teachers isn’t all that bad but it really feels
    bad and seems bad when one is working where almost all are running around with no coherent
    plan in which they proudly believe.

    A set, coherent curriculum also takes care of the
    heirarchy of pay problem. A well planned K-12
    curriculum sets in motion what teachers of all
    subjects at all levels will be doing, and what
    their work levels will be. Therefore, teachers get paid according to the work load.

    However, the biggest benefit to a set k-12 curriculum that is agreed to and taken on by
    all is that you can pass students and fail students knowing that you are as close to absolutely right as possible and you will then
    have the wherewithall to stand behind your evaluations. Then teachers will become as surgeons with a knife in hand and believe me,you
    will get much higher pay. And you will get RESPECT.

    European teachers have been applying this for years on end. They are paid well and they get
    respect.

  21. The thing not mentioned in all of this is that teaching, or rather the ability to teach, is a separate gift. Just because one knows a subject doesn’t mean that he can teach it. I have seen this proven over and over again. I often had math teachers who were math people. The top math students loved them. Everyone else was left to struggle in the fog.

    In most cases, the ability to teach is as important as any other aspect and has to be looked at. Obviously, the teacher must be competent in the subject matter, but what good is competency or even brilliance if they can’t teach.

    Teaching is also a calling. Yes, we should pay more and yadayada, but the fact is there are many math teachers who could easily do better in the private sector, but enjoy teaching more.

    I’m as quick as the next person when it comes to jumping on teacher competency, but a brilliant mathemation or scientist who can’t teach is of no use to students.

  22. Richard Heddleson says:

    “I think market systems are problematic, though.”

    So what do you get through the problematic market? Food, clothes, housing, entertainment, transportation, So what don’t you get through the problematic market? To some extent energy in a state like California and everywhere, health services and education. What are the most screwed up portions of the economy? So explain to me again how markets are problematic.

  23. Richard, do you believe that all market systems are perfect?

  24. Rita, there are NO markets that are perfect. However, they ARE self-correcting to a large extent, since people aren’t going to go out and buy things that they don’t think are worth what they pay for them.

    The alternative in non-market areas like education is to count on human nature and people’s willingness to do the right thing to fix problems.

    Like Robert Heinlein, I’d rather put my money on people’s enlightened self-interest. People generally look out for their own interests first; even altruists get an emotional payback from their selflessness.

    Central control was proven not to work in all those countries that embraced communism; it was a great idea that didn’t work. Why do we keep trying to flog that dead horse?

  25. Tammy in Texas says:

    Well,again may I mention that the answer to most of the problems teachers,districts and education in general encounter can be sovlved by demanding that a set K-12 curriculum be installed. – quote by Tim

    I’m not sure I could disagree more. I don’t think a federally standardized curriculum (which is what I assume you’re referring to) would even begin to address most of the problems.

  26. This really says something about the way in which teachers are trained. Perhaps if the teachers earned degrees in the subject matter they are teaching rather earning these so called education degrees we would not see these problems.–teacher education curricula should be minimized to a 4 course sequence for students majoring in real subjects.

  27. Claire: if market systems are not perfect, then they are problematic, ie. they have some problems. They may or may not be problems one is willing to deal with. In terms of what car I buy, I’m willing to deal with the problems (I bought a cheap S10, and I live with the fact that things break on it before I’ve hit 10K miles on it). In education, I’m not sure what I’m willing to tolerate in terms of market problems. It may be a wash, things might get better, and things might get worse. I don’t know. I worry about making things even worse. I worry that I don’t think the people making the decisions (politicians) really know all that much about what they’re changing.

  28. Mark Odell says:

    D. Cooper wrote: Is everyone here a cynic?

    Hypothetically, let’s say the answer is Yes. What’s your point?

    Rita C. wrote: I think market systems are problematic, though.

    If you meant to say that market systems do have problems, then you’re correct; but absent government interventions (which create another whole set of problems), they’re the problems of freedom, and free people are capable of solving them.

    Richard, do you believe that all market systems are perfect?

    If he does, what does that mean?

    If he doesn’t, what does that mean?

    For that matter, why must Richard believe one way or the other about markets?

    You seem to assume that “all market systems” must be “perfect” (whatever this might mean), as opposed to being merely superior to the alternative: central planning by the state (see: Union, Soviet). If so, why?

  29. D. Cooper says:

    Mark … the cynic comment was in response to Bruce’s snide remark regarding Master’s degrees from ed. schools. I thought he was being a little cynical, but all in all, it actually wasn’t outrageous. So perhaps a little levity if you will. Hope that expains it for you.

    And, FYI … cynical is to be mocking, scornful or sneering. So if the answer is yes…then my point would be that that is rude and not very nice. And, I wouldn’t like it very much. How ’bout you?

  30. Mark, I don’t think you can demonstrate that I said that in my comments. Richard doesn’t have to believe one way or the other. I was just wondering why he jumped on me for asserting that market systems are problematic. I thought maybe he thinks they are free of problems. Since you agree with me that they do have problems, am I missing something?

  31. Tim from Texas says:

    Dear Tammy from Texas:

    I don’t mean a federally mandated curriculum, or
    state mandated, but certainly a district wide one
    started by,completed by and agreed to,and adhered
    to by all in the district. If the teachers don’t do it the state or possibly the fed will. That is not the best way. In Texas and everywhere it’s
    happening and the teachers are whailing and whining as they always have in the teachers lounges across the country. Teachers need to stand up and meet and talk in a meaningful way.
    They need to organize into an association that leaves all administrators,etc out and I mean out.

    Organize and decide on a good curriculum, fight for teacher training,teacher heierarchy of pay and position. What’s wrong with having beginning
    teachers in intense training, journeyman teachers who have shown their abilities and master teachers to rely on for their wisdom and expertise,and the a star-master position who are
    the only people who can become administraters,instead of the coach-couldn’t teach,came from conseling,board kissing admistraters most districts have now. And as for cousnselors-that position shoud be completely
    eliminated. Enough or too much.

  32. Tim from Texas: most districts have curriculums that teachers adhere to. One example would be the Chicago or Everyday Math that so many people dislike. I teach according to the communication skills (English) curriculum set by my district. It builds in some flexibility, but we’re all assigning the same types of papers and teaching the same core set of novels.

    Our curriculum, furthermore, is aligned with the state (Show-Me) standards. These are the standards tested by the state test (MAP) and that are used to determine our status according to NCLB.

    Is this what you’re talking about? Our curriculum was developed by a group of teachers and parents.

  33. Tim from Texas says:

    Dear Rita C.:

    Yes,you’ve made a beginning, and many beginnings have been made in many districts here in Texas and other states as well. However, it’s not nearly enough. Here, I must say, that I doubt these beginnings would have marerialized w/o a standardized graduation test-which I think is a good thing.

    More is on the way. The test must and will get more difficult until a proper peak is reached.

    Our population is growing at a rapid pace, is already very diversified, so situations in education are going to change, maybe not at a rapid pace,but certinly at a good pace. I think teachers need to play an extremely important part in the changes that must and will occur.

    Teachers here in Texas, for example, sat on their
    hands when it all began here in the early 80’s. Of course, they were hurt and skeptical, and I believe in some respects, rightfully so. They had just endured many years of different methods and ideas for teaching – most of which came from education professors et al who didn’t have a real clue, and may I add, still don’t. One example of this was “warm woozie” method which was an absolute crock as well as the others these
    people created on the legends in their own minds.
    Why,the students certainly knew it was a crock and thorougly took advantage. And yes, some teachers, maybe many, knew these “fantasy” remedies and recipes were a crock, but they had no way to counter them.

    However, I do criticize teachers, well at least most of them, for going right back into a siege,hunker-down, dig in the heels mentality and return to their fiefdom classroom thinking that it could possibly work again and it had in the past, but it didn’t and it won’t.

    Teachers should have organized then and proved themselves to be professionals and stopped the onslaught of such mindless methods coming from “above”, and the onslaught of universities and especially the ed depts graduating teachers w/o the necessary abilities and the wherewithall to become good teachers. All they are really interested in is filling their subject areas to keep their jobs.

    As already mentioned, more from “above” or from somewhere will come and must come. My argument is teachers should organize completely,build a good and strong association and fight for a heavy ratio of representation in the decision process.
    Then, when you get there, have a complete plan that emcompasses and covers all situations in the realm of education,that is, academics for all, scheduling, discipline, socioeconomic matters, sports and yes I said sports, or should I have said PE ah but yes, I degress, we don’t need a real PE program with all those chubby chunks running around.

    Again, I say a complete plan. Organize an assoc.
    that is a strong assoc. One that has money clout also-not only for political purposes,but for example, sending groups of excellent teachers to visit other districts, other states to learn what is working and what isn’t. And if you find that few diamonds in the rough, pick them up. There’s not a thing wrong with copying.
    But, above all, send them to other countries,not for a week or two, but for a year to learn some methods from them. I suggest Europe first. I’m
    not saying they do things perfectly by any means,
    but overall they do a good job. The proof is in the pudding.

    In addition, keep out of your association all admistrators, principals,VPs,coordinaters, and the like until a hierarchy of teachers has been installed-by your organization-and master teachers only are allowed to fill those administrative positions.

    And just as an aside here, your organization must
    require that all principals, VPs, coordinators and the like teach at least, at least three weeks
    straight through, without fail, every year. Apply the ancient adage: If you build a circle for others to go into, go into it yourself and see how you do.

    And again in good humor-enough or too much?

  34. Your plan is amusing, sure. I’ve never heard of the “warm woozie” pedagogy, but yes, teachers are bombarded with the latest miracles in education (currently high stakes testing) and expected to change methods every few years — even if we know what we’re expected to switch to won’t work as well as what we’re currently doing. Yes, it is annoying. But any blanket plan, because of the individual nature of teaching and learning, is going to be too vague to be effective. BTW, I think Master Teachers belong in the classroom, not screwing around with discipline and administrative tasks. Great administrators are not necessarily great teachers and great teachers are not necessarily great administrators. It is two different skill sets, and some of the problem in education is that people misunderstand that. Administration is not a promotion from teaching; it is a job change. Teachers tired of the classroom are not necessarily qualified for it. Yes, it is a good thing if your administration understands what goes on in a classroom, but I don’t hold it against them that they weren’t cut out for classroom teaching.

  35. Tim from Texas says:

    Rita, “warm woozie” is the coddling pedogogy that
    so many teachers, parents, and administrators fell for. The idea “we teachers are here for the
    students, we’re here to help you no matter what, and the admistrators, couselors, you name it we’re here for you.” Nature doesn’t allow for that to be the truth and the young people certainly know it’s a lie. We are here to try to
    bring them into the realm of civility and knowledge, yes somewhat for them, but let’s get
    real here, it’s mostly for us. Let’s say a severe
    depression hits, both parents are out of work and there’s only enough food whereever it came from for the two parents and the youngest of chidren so the others, say the 9, and 11 year old
    must go. This has happen over and over again
    throughout history, but the young people don’t need to read about. They know it instinctively.

    Now, as to the bombardment that annoys you, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Stop being
    the bombardee. Come up with a plan yourselves.
    The plan can certainly take into account the somewhat individual nature of teaching and learning. But without a full complete curriculum,
    how do you expect to find out these individual needs. For example, I mention again that it’s unfair to th students not to have an organized
    grading system where any teacher could honestly
    say the the student Who made a B in his class,
    would have made exactly the same in another teacher’s class teaching the same subject at the same level. But, the problem is that doesn’t even
    come close to happening, and that’s just one example. Now you may say it does,but think about
    it, investigate it, and you’ll find it doesn’t.
    This is unfair to the students and they hate it,
    and in many cases this is the reason they rebell
    and turn the teacher off. They want a fair playing field. They want to know how they compare to others in a fair and equall playing
    field. That can’t be accomplished without a blanket plan of somekind, at least to start with
    which can certainly allow for tweeks and adjustments along the way. But, at any rate teachers need to come up with a plan which they
    think can work and become a part of the decision
    process.

    And I apologize for digressing and depressing here a bit, but those gigantic, color seperated
    picture filled textbooks,weighing anywhere from
    6 pounds to 10 pounds each, which are never covered front to back that are produced by the
    textbook ring must be eliminated. Not only are they expensive,but if they were of reasonable
    amount of content, and therfore a reasonable weight, the students wouldn’t mind taking them
    home for homework and then bringing them back and
    carrying them to class. Did you know that the entire weight of texts, paper, notebooks,pens,
    pencils etc. that european high-school students
    carry and learn from weighs no more than 12 pounds and this includes the university prep schools where each year 9 to 11 subjects are taken.

    Now, to the idea that teaching and the job of
    administering a school are completly separate jobs, and that master teachers should only stay
    in the classroom, I like to say that of course,
    not all master teachers would make a good principal. Many would, however, and it would be wise I think to have many master teachers progress to it as part of your plan. Moreover,
    with a plan, a curriculum and the will to make things better most of the discipline problems will disappear. Students want it to disappear and they will help if there is a plan coming from
    professionals who assure them that the playing field will be fair for all. One more thing and I’ll go have a beer. Tired of teaching and couldn’t teach individuals and coaches fill moast ad jobs now and that isn’t what you call
    a good idea is it? I don’t suppose you think a
    sports team would do well with a headcoach who
    coudn’t coach or hadn’t progressed thru the ranks
    would you? So why do you think thats ok for the
    academic side? Or do you?

    Now, many changes are coming,and necessarily so,
    because the old system has a poor track record.
    So I say organize, and as so many teachers are want to instruct their students–learn and use your imagination. Good bye.

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