Let’s Raise the Bar to Enter the Teaching Profession

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source:  Green & Write, February 13, 2017

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. Look for next week’s piece, titled “Let’s Lower the Bar to Enter the Teaching Profession,” which examines the other side of this issue.

Making it more difficult to enter the teaching profession is often offered as a way to boost overall teacher quality. If only the highest caliber individuals are allowed to become teachers, then students will have access to the best educators and will therefore be more successful in school. In many countries that outperform the U.S. on international tests, the teaching profession is highly competitive and much more difficult to enter.

Finland’s teacher preparation programs, for example, are extremely selective. Only 7% of applicants at the University of Helsinki, for example, were admitted in 2015. Applicants to teaching programs must have strong high school grades, extracurricular involvement, and high entrance exam scores. Those interested in teaching must also have their communication skills, character, and attitudes toward the teaching profession assessed in an interview. These rigorous requirements translate into high academic achievement. Finland was ranked #4 in reading, #5 in science, and #13 in math on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The National Institute of Education is Singapore’s only teacher training institute.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly, becoming a teacher in Singapore is also very competitive. Only about one in eight applicants are accepted into the country’s single teacher training institute, the National Institute of Education (NIE). NIE only accepts as many applicants as they anticipate having job openings for each year. In addition to doing well on the most challenging college entrance exams in the country, students must also be in the top one-third of their high school class, demonstrate a passion for teaching and a willingness to learn, and exhibit strong communication skills during an interview. It is not surprising that students in Singapore do very well on the PISA. Singapore was ranked #1 in science, math, and reading in 2015.

Making Teaching More Competitive in the U.S.

Teaching is not the most academically challenging postsecondary route in the U.S. In fact, a report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) found that grading standards for education majors were significantly lower than those of other majors at more than half of the 500+ institutions they studied. Furthermore, NCTQ found that those with most lenient grading also tended to offer less rigorous coursework. Too many institutions allow students to major in education as opposed to receiving a degree in their content area. For example, a math teacher does not necessarily have to hold a college degree in math. He or she might have earned an education degree and taken a number of math courses to earn an endorsement to teach in that subject area. This focus on studying education as opposed to becoming an expert in content is problematic because past research has shown that content knowledge is predictive of teacher effectiveness, especially in math. There is also evidence that other measures of academic ability, such as ACT/SAT scores and institutional competitiveness, also predict teacher performance. Individuals with higher college entrance exam scores and those who attended more competitive undergraduate institutions tend to be more effective teachers.

As demonstrated in high performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore, holding teaching candidates to high academic standards is critical to student learning. We must require more of our future teachers. It’s time we raise the bar.

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.