This week, the Teacher Quality Blog examines one side of a contentious debate on whether or not the requirements to enter the teaching profession should be raised or lowered. In case you missed it, here’s last week’s piece titled “Let’s Raise the Bar to Enter the Teaching Profession,” which examines the other side of this issue.
By Amy Auletto
Interest in the teaching profession is dwindling and enrollment in teacher preparation programs is declining rapidly. A recent report by the Learning Policy Institute describes a growing crisis in the nation’s supply of teachers. This report estimated that the U.S. was 64,000 teachers short in the 2015-16 school year. By 2020, it’s estimated that this shortage will increase to 300,000 teachers. Even more concerning is the fact that these staffing shortages disproportionately impact schools with higher concentrations of poor and minority students.
Making it easier to enter the teaching profession has been argued as one possible solution to this problem. The financial and opportunity costs to enter the teaching profession are high. Prospective teachers typically spend thousands of dollars and several years studying in order to earn teaching certificates. Successful completion of a teacher preparation program relies heavily on academic performance as opposed to performance in the classroom. Opponents of stringent teacher preparation regulations suggest that receiving a teaching certificate should be based on demonstrated teaching ability instead of fulfilling academic requirements.
Alternative routes into teaching are often touted as an easier way for certain people to enter the profession and ease teacher shortages. Programs such as Teach For America and Troops to Teachers offer accelerated pathways into the teaching profession for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree. Teacher For America focuses its recruitment efforts on diverse high-performing college graduates, and Troops to Teachers creates accelerated opportunities for military personnel to change careers. These programs allow individuals to enter the classroom after brief intensive training programs. Creating more opportunities for individuals interested in teaching to obtain certification through these routes has the potential to address teaching shortages. If individuals who already have college degrees are allowed to quickly enter the teaching profession, the teacher shortage can be addressed.
Another way to decrease barriers to entering the teaching profession is to make teacher licensure exams easier to pass. Many individuals interested in becoming teachers are deterred because they struggle to pass the necessary exams to obtain a teaching certificate. The edTPA, an assessment currently used by 728 teacher preparation programs in 38 states, has come under controversy in recent years due to its low pass rates, particularly for students of color. While higher licensure exam scores do have a positive relationship with later teacher effectiveness, there are tradeoffs. Individuals who do well on exams aren’t necessarily going to make great teachers and individuals who fail these exams might have otherwise done very well in the classroom.
Something must be done about the declining interest in the teaching profession. Teacher shortages are only going to get worse in the coming years. It’s time we consider whether the high financial and opportunity costs associated with traditional teacher preparation are really producing a strong supply of teachers. Investing in alternative certification programs and lowering exam requirements may be effective strategies to encourage more individuals to pursue a career in teaching.
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