Quality surges in ranks of young teachers

February 12

I hear from many experienced teachers who feel the emphasis on student test results has hurt their profession. But to young people coming into the profession, the situation does not look so dark. Education leaders influenced by European and Asian methods are raising standards for those who can enroll in teacher training, while making the training deeper, with more participation by skilled veterans.

Many more teachers are required now to earn degrees in their subjects. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has set new standards for teacher training programs in which entrants should have a collective college grade-point average of at least 3.0 and college admission test scores above the national average by 2017.

The higher targets might already be having an effect. An article in the quarterly journal Education Next by Dan Goldhaber, a former Alexandria School Board member, and Joe Walch, both of the Center for Education Data & Research at the University of Washington, says new teachers have significantly higher SAT scores than in previous years. Average SAT performance of first-year teachers in 2008-2009 was at the 50th percentile, compared with the 45th percentile in 1993-1994 and 42nd percentile in 2000-2001.

In the past, teacher candidates had lower SAT scores than college classmates choosing other jobs, but in 2008-2009, “graduates entering the teaching profession . . . had average SAT scores that slightly exceeded average scores of their peers entering other occupations,” the researchers said.

The 2008-2009 data might have been affected by an economic downturn that led more high-scoring graduates to seek out secure teaching jobs. But, the researchers said, “the data are encouraging and may represent the reversal of the long-term trend of declining academic talent entering teaching.”

Interest in teaching among the best college students has increased. Fast-start teacher training programs such as Teach for America and DC Teaching Fellows have far more applicants than spaces and select the collegiate academic elite, as European and Asian programs do. Some charter school networks and universities with similarly low acceptance rates have secured some of the best candidates for their training programs by providing much more classroom experience.

The Relay Graduate School of Education has been designed by successful urban teachers to give the most up-to-date instruction for work in city schools. Some charter and magnet schools have created teaching residencies, in which entrants work with experienced teachers for a year. Young teachers in these programs seem happy with the emphasis on data in raising student achievement. They watch older teachers assess each child and adjust their techniques when needed. “I knew that I didn’t just want to learn how to teach,” said Keith Dykstra, a math teacher for a KIPP DC charter school who went through its Capital Teaching Residency program. “I wanted to learn how to be an excellent teacher. I thought the best way to become an excellent teacher was to surround myself with teachers who were already excellent.”

Frances Martinez, a former KIPP middle school student in New York who is now in the KIPP DC residency program, said she “truly wanted to make a difference.” She said the teachers she works with “walk with you every step of the way.” Another KIPP teaching resident, Bianca Brown, said, “I am getting the best quality instruction in the shortest amount of time.”

When veterans are enlisted to guide newcomers, the results are promising, and they are being embraced by some of the best young teachers we have.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.
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