How to make teaching an elite profession

Seven percent of teacher training programs receive a top ranking in National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review. “With only 1 in 15 programs providing first-year teachers with solid preparation, it is clear we, as a nation, have a long way to go if we are going to do right by teachers as well as their students,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ’s president.

Among the top teacher training programs in the country — according to NCTQ — is Utah’s Western Governors University , which is online and competency based.

NCTQ recommends setting higher standards for teacher candidates, making it tougher to be recommended for licensure and holding teacher training programs accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates.

American schools need better teachers, so let’s make it harder to become one, argues Amanda Ripley in Slate. The “world’s smartest countries” treat teacher selection and preparation “the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots,” she writes. Some U.S. states are raising standards for teacher education programs.

Rhode Island, which once had one of the nation’s lowest entry-bars for teachers, is leading the way. The state has already agreed to require its education colleges to admit classes of students with a mean SAT, ACT, or GRE score in the top one-half of the national distribution by 2016. By 2020, the average score must be in the top one-third of the national range, which would put Rhode Island in line with education superpowers like Finland and Singapore.

Sonja Stenfors, 23, is a teacher-in-training from Finland, worked as a classroom aide for a year to raise her odds of getting into a teacher-training program, writes Ripley. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted.

After three years at a Finnish university, Stenfors is studying at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.  “Here it’s not cool to study to be a teacher,” she wrote in Finnish on her blog. “They perceive a person who is studying to be a teacher as a little dumber.”

The University of Missouri–Kansas City admits two-thirds of those who apply, writes Ripley. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score. Students have to have a B average, sit for an interview, and pass an online test of basic academic skills.

They do two semesters of student teaching, compared to Senfors’ four semesters in Finland, and receive “less rigorous, hands-on classroom coaching from experienced teachers.”

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Two unrelated thoughts:

    1. For all the talk, nobody–absolutely nobody–knows what is “solid preparation” for being a teacher. Perhaps if we had some real, long-term research using student learning as a measure of teacher quality …

    2. Requiring teachers to score in the top half of the national range–let alone the top third–is going to severely limit the number of black and hispanic teaching candidates. Teaching jobs will be largely limited to whites and Asians (the new whites).

    • Wasn’t there a post a while back about the scandal of there being a large number of White teachers?

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Education Realist has done a number of posts on this. In his words:

      Every time you hear someone say “We need to upgrade the teaching pool”, understand that they are saying that we need fewer black and Hispanic teachers, and more white teachers. They deny this, but they’re either ignorant or lying. Understand, too, that the data establishing a link between teacher cognitive ability and student outcomes is so slight as to be non-existent. While a basement seems logical—that is, teachers have to have a certain level of smarts—the lack of a connection suggests that we’re comfortably above the basement.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        There is a WORLD of difference between the following:

        Case 1:
        Mr. A says, “It should be the case that x”.
        And collaterally: x–>y

        Case 2:
        Mr. A says, “It should be the case that y”.

        The reason, of course, is that Mr. A’s attitude towards y in Case 1 could be any of the following:

        1) Ignorance
        2) Indifference
        3) Eagerness
        4) Reluctance
        5) Resignation
        6) Doubt

        To say that Mr. A is either “ignorant or lying” if he denies that he’s *saying* “It should be the case that y” is grossly unfair.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I’m not sure what you just said.

          To use legal terms, I think Education Realist is saying, “Anyone who speaks as an expert on teacher training knows or should know that raising the test scores needed to become a teacher will decrease the proportion of black and hispanic teachers.” If they know and deny it, they are lying. If they don’t know, they are ignorant.

          • superdestroyer says:

            Much like physicist make calculations easier by assuming perfectly spherical chickens in a vaccuum, educational professionals seem to operate from the point of view that all teachers are upper middle class whites who came from two parent families where the parents purchased books.

            I have always thought that one of the problems with educational policy in the U.S. that the highest level of policy makers came from the ranks of prep school, Ivy League educated elites who have no idea wt it is like in 99% of the schools in the U.S.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I think that’s true but I think something else is going on, too. People who make educational policy–or want to make educational policy–believe pretty much everyone is simply a not-quite-as-smart-and-accomplished version of themselves. They are morally afraid to think otherwise. To think otherwise seems, at best, “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and, at worst, racism and classism.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            “People who make educational policy–or want to make educational policy–believe pretty much everyone is simply a not-quite-as-smart-and-accomplished version of themselves.”

            Roger has it right. And this is way the de-centralization of educational policy is so very important. The homogenization of educational policy has harmed public education. Common Core is a desperate but well intentioned grasp at control by elites. It’s doomed to failure and it should fail. Hirsch’s original concept of CC was a wonderful idea as a voluntary model, but as a forced content and testing regime it’s a crude tool of soft authoritarianism. It’s the We Know Best crowd forcing values on those they don’t understand and don’t really respect.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Of course, all schooling is “We Know Best.” It is older people telling younger people, “this is what you should know and this is what you should be able to do.” Common Core is one particular version of “We Know Best.”

    • If you want to attract more and better candidates, at least in terms of grades, to the teaching profession, the simplest way to do so is to offer more money. You’re already getting the idealists. Will people attracted by money be better teachers? I can’t guarantee it, but students and graduates will look a lot better on paper — and its a proven approach for other professions.

      If you don’t care about teacher quality, you will rant and rave about how teachers have too many benefits, too many job protections, make too much money, have too much autonomy, and the like, even as teacher compensation drops.

  2. Ann in L.A. says:

    There are two ways to make becoming a teacher harder: 1) the way a guild would do it, by creating more hoops someone has to jump through (and the cost), and 2) by actually requiring a higher level of knowledge and skills. Depending on the state, they can be heavy on the former and light on the latter or vice versa. Improving the quality of teachers would include reducing the needless steps while increasing the skill level of teachers.

  3. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Amanda Ripley is not one to quickly pick up on things nor to see what others do.
    Follow up at The Daily Howler new
    Search for Amanda Ripley.
    In particular, Miss Ripley willing swallowed Michelle Rhee’s Baltimore Miracle of taking 70 second graders from the 13% on the CTBS to 90% of them at the 90th percentile in third grade, when Michelle Rhee co taught at Harlem Park ES in Baltimore from 1992 – 1995 (TFA in the beginning when they worked 3 years).
    It didn’t dawn on Miss Ripley to ask about those 7 who didn’t score at the 90th percentile.

    • Ah character assassination. The preferred method of discourse of those whose own viewpoints won’t bear examination.

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        Not reading well.
        I say nothing about her character.
        Read up on her failures as a reporter.
        Did she ask about that miracle of Miss Rhee’s?
        Did she ignore one international test to cherry pick the one that supported her position?

        As for assassination, that’s your level of discussion.

        • Sure you do. She’s either stupid or a liar. But that puts the author of the piece at the center of your comment not what she wrote.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Miss Ripley’ has shown that her work is not to be trusted for analysis or facts.
            The words of my friend’s father come to mind:
            Claud Cockburn proclaimed that facts and rumours were of equal significance, and warned against what he called `the factual heresy’ – the claim, dear to journalists with a saint-like idea of their own mission, that lumps of truth lie about like gold nuggets waiting to be picked up.

            Claud did not think journalism was either saintly or fact-bound. `All stories are written backwards,’ he once observed. `They are supposed to begin with the facts and develop from there, but in reality they begin with a journalist’s point of view from which the facts are subsequently organised.’

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Roger’s citation of educationrealist on the two points is on the mark as to the effects of what Miss Ripley’s proposes.

          • Miss Ripley’s primary sin is in demonstrating that teaching skill is real and that it’s worth encouraging and rewarding. That runs counter to the current status quo which largely disregards teaching skill and certainly doesn’t reward the quality.

            Oh, and leave off with the spurious name-dropping. Someone’s liable to check and find out you’re holding up a communist as a worthwhile commentator on journalism and die laughing.

            Imagine the how that would weigh on your conscience if you had one.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Allen, your pickpocket tendencies are on display again.

          • And your preference for unsupported character assassination over the subject under discussion has never wavered.

            How’s that working out for you, by the way? A lot of success alerting people to the hideous danger posed by the increasing privatization of public education? Plenty of folks nodding in agreement at the proposition that teachers have no responsibility for the quality of the education kids get in the public education system?

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Your constant need to respond to me is amusing, as though you can’t stand someone else getting in the last word.
            There a quote from “Dirty Harry” about your actions:
            “feed their superego or something”.

            As for character assassination (unsupported or not), you are quite the pickpocket again, calling out “thief “when your hand is caught in the pocket.
            Then back to your tired old standard about the public school system about to be choked on their own entrails.

            You also misread Miss Ripley.
            Here’s the quote from her story:
            ” All of which could transform not only the quality of teaching in America but the way the rest of us think about school and learning.”
            How profound!

            Will you respond?
            I’ll wager $1000 that you will.

  4. Linda Gottfredson gives the IQ range of US teachers as 110-140. Her data indicate that US teachers already are mostly in the top quartile of IQ.
    Quite aside as to what if any benefit would occur if the average IQ level of US teachers were increased one has to keep in mind the availability of alternative fields of employment for high IQ individuals in the US.
    I don’t know much about the Finnish economy but possibly it doesn’t provide as many opportunities for high IQ people as the US economy. So this may make teaching more attractive to high IQ individuals in Finland than in the US..

  5. Elizabeth says:

    The problem is that teachers who are on the lower end in terms of intelligence cannot relate to the needs of students at the upper end – hence our dismal test scores.
    The main issue is a cultural one. In many countries where teaching is an honored profession, education is a privilege and discipline /high standards are strictly enforced. My FIL was a math teacher in a developing country – and if a student could not or would not learn, the student was asked not to return. Obedience and effort was expected. Good luck trying to get that here.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Well, that’s *one* problem, anyway.

      Still, looking back, it’s a really good thing for a too-smart-for-their-britches kid to realize that even the dimmer teachers are older and more experienced in ways that can make them actually more effective.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Whoa- I wasn’t talking about disrespect. My dd was taught to respect teachers, and throughout her school career I’ve heard she has – yes, I have asked during parent-teacher conferences. She had one teacher who was very hostile toward her as well as my spouse – this teacher kept saying how hard she had to work in school when she was dd’s age.

  6. Ruth Joy says:

    Stacy is right about the voluntary nature of Hirsch`s curriculum. Even he said that 60% should be common and the rest a local decision. One of his justifications for a common curriculum is that children move around a lot. But a common curriculum only solves that if every classroom is on the same page of the same book on the same day.

    • It also helps the kids who move at the end of the year (many families choose to finish a school year and move over the summer). Even using different books, if the kids learn the planets, the water cycle, the continents, and the presidents in one grade, then the teachers the next year can use that as a starting point. We use Hirsch’s Core Knowledge as homeschoolers and love the flexibility that it gives. We learn about all of the topics, but can go in-depth with the ones that are interesting to a particular child. And, because it isn’t meant to be a whole year curriculum, we also have time for personal interests, local events, and field trips.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    We have subject knowledge and “skills”.
    Good luck getting a consensus on the latter, along with metrics and ways of teaching it/them.

  8. Before swooning in admiration of the Finnish system, it should be remembered that Finland has less than half the population of New York City and that most of them are Finns. From what I’ve read, they mostly live with their biological parents (as most Americans formerly did) and that many kids leave school at 16 – for vocational training etc – such that the last two “HS” years are only for those qualifying for university preparation. I wonder how the white kids of Scandinavian descent from MN, SD and ND compare with the Finns?

    • D's Squirrel Food says:

      Comparisons to other Scandinavians US simple enough. How do Swedes do? About as well as Americans.