Dilemmas for Teacher Education Programs

Article excerpt

B. Ann Boyce

During the next decade, approximately two million new teachers will be needed to fill positions created by retiring teachers and those switching professions and by the dramatic increase in student enrollment (Bradley, 1998; Smith, 2001 ).The projected retirement rate alone is cause for alarm, with approximately 24 percent of elementary teachers and 26 percent of secondary teachers expected to retire in the next 12 to 15 years (Bandeira de Mello & Broughman, 1996). So, how will we produce the teachers we need to carry us forward in the 21st century? And what obstacles will we have to overcome in order to teach all children effectively?

Along with the dilemma imposed by the teacher shortage, teacher education programs are constantly being challenged to improve the quality of their graduates. This is usually accomplished by increasing the standards for admission, retention, and/ or matriculation to meet the requirements of state departments of education, national accreditation agencies (e.g., NOATE, NASPE, TEAC), national certification tests (e.g., Praxis I and II), and universities. While no one is opposed to improving the quality of our future teachers, it seems that some of the very institutions that should be supporting the improvement of teacher education may actually be hindering this process, especially in light of the teacher shortage. This editorial addresses two such problems: (1)the lack of universal passing scores or criteria for Praxis tests, and (2) the push by national and state departments of education for alternative certification programs that are not held to the same academic rigors as university programs. Furthermore, thes e issues will be discussed in terms of their impact on the teacher shortage and on the quality of the preservice teachers participating in alternative certification programs.

At many academic institutions, Praxis I is used either as a screening tool for entry into teacher education programs or as grounds for dismissal from those programs. The test consists of a basic academic-skills assessment in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, and it is usually taken during the second or third year of a student's academic preparation. In most cases, if the test is not passed, then a student is not admitted to, or is dismissed from, the teacher education program. The cut-off scores for passing are determined by each state; thus, no comparisons can be made between states. Furthermore, the test differs slightly from state to state because the Educational Testing Service, which creates the test, must use questions dictated by each state's department of education.

The way the test is currently conducted creates inconsistencies among those tested, and the students in our programs know about this problem. For example, about three years ago, one of my sophomores remarked to me, "If I don't pass the test [Praxis I], I will simply go to school in another state, take and pass the test in that state, and then return to Virginia to teach in a couple of years due to the reciprocity agreement between the two states." Virginia's passing criteria for Praxis I continue to be among the highest in the nation (DeMary, 2000), and it is obvious that my student knew this and was prepared to circumvent the system. By the way, she passed the test in Virginia and is now teaching there. But difficult questions remain: Why aren't there uniform passing criteria for Praxis I across all states? For that matter, why aren't there uniform passing standards for the Praxis I test in the areas of health and physical education? What impact do high Praxis I cut-off scores have on the pool of potential teachers?

From a review of two Virginia Department of Education documents, a partial answer can be offered. The data from DeMary (2000) revealed that for the academic years of 19961997, 1997-1998, and 1998-1999, average pass rates for the Praxis I across the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics were approximately 69 percent, 65 percent, and 64 percent, respectively. …