Credentialing Loopholes Common in K-12 Teaching

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As states wrestle against teacher shortage

WASHINGTON - The quality of classroom learning was once again highlighted last month with the release of a report that documents the failure of states to ensure that all teachers have the knowledge and skills required for student instruction.

Education Week's study, "Quality Counts 2000," found that while states set standards for those who wish to enter the profession of teaching, nearly all of them have created loopholes - some that allow people to teach who lack basic skills like literacy. For example, the study found that although 39 states require prospective teachers to pass a basic-skills test to ascertain, among other things, levels of literacy, 36 of those states allow some who have failed those tests to teach anyway.

The study also revealed that national certification of teachers is not a highly regarded accomplishment. In fact, only North Carolina has more than 1,000 national board-certified teachers; Nevada and Oregon have none.

"With the nation needing to hire 2 million teachers in the next decade, states must make sure that the people who take those jobs are qualified to teach to the higher standards now expected of students," says Virginia B. Edwards, the editor of the study. "States are the ultimate arbiters of who should teach. They can help recruit and attract candidates and they can keep good teachers in the classroom by providing support and evaluating performance. But in each of those roles, states are falling down on the job."

According to the study, states also do a poor job of providing incentives to encourage prospective teachers. For instance: only Massachusetts offers "signing bonuses" to lure prospective teachers. Maryland plans to add them next year.

Twenty-seven states have scholarship or loan-forgiveness programs for prospective teachers. However, only 18 target specific shortages in particular fields and only 10 have programs to encourage teachers to work in impoverished or low-performing areas.

While 40 states have programs that provide an accelerated route to the classroom, particularly for career-switchers, with the exception of California, New Jersey and Texas, few prospective teachers take this path. …