QUALITY OF SCHOOLS begins with the quality of the teachers. Every parent knows of fine teachers in the public schools--more of them than the present salaries and inept teacher education programs give any reason to expect. But there aren't enough of those first-rate teachers and, in particular, the performance of the young people now coming into the field is a matter for real concern. Their test scores and grades are on the average strikingly low. If communities raise salaries, how do they avoid simply paying more for the inadequate quality that the present system produces? The whole process of teacher education and certification invites fundamental reform.
That point is made in both of the valuable studies published last week--the Coleman report to the National Science Board on math and science teaching, and Ernest L. Boyer's book, "High School." In most states the certification of future teachers is a tight little monopoly controlled by the education departments of the state colleges, and their requirements have grown more complex as their product has become less satisfactory.
"In some cases," the Coleman commission warned, "certification procedures and standards are inappropriate barriers that prevent a truly qualified person from teaching." Put less delicately, the person who graduates from college with a solid major in math or chemistry will not be allowed to teach in most states, including those around here, without taking a further eight or 10 courses--personal health, history of education, perhaps American history, certainly foundations of education, and so forth and so on--required for certification. It is impossible for a student to complete both a rigorous major in a scientific subject and all the certification requirements in four years of college. No wonder few science majors go into teaching. And no wonder science and math are increasingly taught by teachers with inadequate preparation.
Mr. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, makes a proposal that is as constructive as it is radical. First of all, he says, people who have majored only in "education" should not be permitted to teach in the secondary schools. Future teachers need an academic major, and ought to take no education courses as undergraduates. After graduation, those with good records ought to take a fifth year devoted to preparation for teaching--several useful courses in methodology while working in the classroom as apprentices under experienced teachers.
To Mr. Boyer's proposal we might add one of our own. Where school systems have acute shortages of qualified teachers, as in science and math, they might offer to put fifth-year candidates--people with college degrees in those subjects, but lacking professional preparation for teaching--on the payroll. True, the present process of recruiting and training teachers is unsatisfactory. But equally true, the states and their public schools have the capacity, if they choose, to do quite a lot about it.