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Vermonters for Better Education
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Goal #4: Better Teachers
through subject testing of all teachers

Every year, thousands of parents pay money out of their own pockets to send their children to independent schools where the teachers need not be licensed.

Are the parents crazy or is the licensure process an unreliable indicator of teacher quality?

Concerned about teacher competency and student underachievement, some states are responding by tightening up entry requirements into the teaching profession.  Ironically, this is not always the best solution.  It can result in more requirements for pedagogical studies by prospective teachers and fewer requirements that teachers actually know the subject matter that they are allowed to teach.  Many of  the required pedagogical studies have earned the pejorative slang designation of “Mickey Mouse”  programs that take up time but deliver few results.  They also have the effect of keeping out of the classroom qualified people who might have started their careers in another field, gained considerable experience and expertise, yet are not allowed to teach until they complete the programs.

“Too many potential teachers,” observed US Secretary of Education Richard Riley in February 1999, “are turned away because of the cumbersome process that requires them to jump through hoops and lots of them.”

Vermont’s licensure requirements are similar to other states in that prospective teachers must show evidence of an education degree. Independent schools in the state need not hire licensed teachers, a fact that many of these schools consider a positive, not a negative.  Recently, the State Board of Education mandated competency testing but for new teachers, not those already in the field.  It will therefore take a considerable amount of time for this program to be effective.

Vermonters for Better Education agrees with the Fordham Foundation’s observation that every child “should be able to count on having a teacher who has a solid general education, who possesses deep subject area knowledge, and who has no record of misbehavior.”

All employed teachers should be required to take competency tests and given a reasonable amount of time to retrain/reeducate themselves if they fail the test. In addition, alternative certification methods should be streamlined for prospective teachers who did not major in education.  The College of St. Joseph in Rutland offers an accelerated program for career-switchers who have a bachelor’s degree in another field but who want to teach.  The state should encourage similar innovative programs elsewhere. Independent schools should be allowed to continue to hire unlicensed teachers.

Where We Should Be — 
How About Teacher Competency Testing for all Teachers

It isn't the people who aspire to be teachers who are dull, or stupid, or inherently incompetent. The problem is that their preparation in professional education programs is so vacuous, so tepid, such thin gruel that they are pre-positioned to fail tests that want to know what they know about the three "R"s, not what they feel about self esteem, or the politics of diversity in the fourth grade, or the value of leaning together and humming to establish community. 

Young people who want to be teachers deserve better than to be embarrassed by competency tests that they can't pass because they haven't been taught what they need to know. Aspiring teachers need meat-and-potatoes courses in what to teach. They need to be what they used to be - experts in a field or two of knowledge and generalists in other fields, and pre-eminently able to communicate what they know to students. If support for truly rigorous teacher tests spur education colleges to create rigorous, subject-content rich programs, then Vermont schools, parents and kids are the winners. 

...Competent teachers aren't afraid of competency tests. Incompetent teachers, especially incompetent teachers who aren't willing to retrain to become competent, are afraid of competency tests. 

Opponents of competency testing cite the fairness issue. They say that it isn't fair to spring a difficult test on unprepared veteran teachers. They have a point, but it should not block competency testing. Fairness can be achieved. 

Try this. All employed teachers be required to take the test, but their 
scores be published only to each, personally. Then give those who privately and without public embarrassment know that they failed the test four years to retrain/reeducate themselves and become competent to pass the test or lose their licenses to teach. Those for whom the effort to become competent is not worth it would have four years to graciously bow out. Let's support the (current) advocacy of competency testing of aspiring teachers. Let's ... demand a competency test for all employed teachers, as well. 

Bernier Mayo 
Headmaster of St. Johnsbury Academy 
September 18, 1998 
Goal #3: Reliable Assessments < | > Conclusions

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