Response: Michigan Fails Students with Poor Teacher Prep

Posted on October 15th, 2013 by Mike Posthumus

This weekend my mother handed me a newspaper (what’s this?) and requested that I read the full-page full-color article: “Michigan Fails Students with Poor Teacher Prep.” As an employee of GVSU’s College of Education I was excited to learn the ways the exemplary teacher education programs throughout Michigan were failing our K-12 students.

I encourage you to read the article, and I believe there are some valuable points to consider for improved teacher preparation. I agree that some components of our current education and teacher preparation systems could be reworked or improved, but consider these rebuttals to the article before making any final determinations about our failing system:

“If this were happening with doctors or airplane pilots, there’d be a revolt,” said Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan. “I don’t think the public is alarmed enough.”

-If we valued and compensated teachers as well as doctors or airplane pilots we would be able to select and recruit the premier talent entering our universities to enter the profession.

“Teacher prep programs that routinely accept students with high school grade point averages below 3.0 and ACT scores lower than that of students in other majors.”

-Earlier in the article the author uses a quote by an administrator to suggest grades don’t matter, “You can give me a bunch of 4.0’s (straight-A college students) and it won’t tell me if they can teach,”… Some … ( should) work in a factory and not have an impact on others.” So which will it be:  grades matter, or they don’t?

(There is) “Wild variability” in the quality of university teacher programs, with parts of several programs shut down by the state because of poor performance.”

-This is an indication that leaders are already attempting to improve quality of programs and set a high standard of teacher preparation.

“Certification exams so easy that the pass rates are similar to cosmetology. And the few teacher candidates who do fail? They can take the exam over and over until they pass.”

-CPA’s, architects, lawyers, and even doctors and airline pilots can retake their certification exams. Most professional certifications can be retaken until an individual passes them. If a pass-rate is high, perhaps the candidates are well prepared.

“A state-mandated student teaching requirement of just 12 weeks, while the same state government demands plumbers apprentice for three years.”

-Actually, to earn a professional teaching certificate in Michigan one must teach for a minimum of 3 years. Prior to that, educators teach with a provisional certificate that allows them to instruct a classroom under the tutelage of district and building administrators and the professional learning community therein.

“One in eight Michigan teachers has one year or less experience in the classroom, and one in five has less than three years of experience, about the time studies show they are becoming fully competent at their jobs.”

-We expect new teachers in our system because of the abundance of retiring educators from the baby-boomer generation and state-funded buyouts to reduce districts’ salary expenses. Coincidentally this has occurred in the past 1-3 years. Check out this article to learn more: Buyouts

All of this aside, the most impressive claim of this article is the article’s name, “Poor Teacher Prep…” The article goes on to state that quality educators only account for approximately 20% of students’ learning. The article clearly shows that “outside influence accounts for 70% of student learning,” not teachers, or teacher prep. Perhaps the system that supports families, parents, and students outside of school is broken and that’s what we need to fix. Much like a car with a flat tire, if you don’t  repair the hole in the rubber  no matter how much air you add, you will still have a flat tire at the end of the day. Drastically improving teacher prep is like continually filling a flat tire with air. It isn’t fixing the root cause of the problem.

I agree that teacher prep programs could be improved as could all professional training programs. Preservice education students could spend more time in classrooms before graduating and  admission standards could be more rigorous, but our “system” would have to offer them more earning potential down the road. Without extra incentives, these rigor-added changes may result in a higher percentage of exemplary graduates but thousands of students throughout the US may become subjects of emergency teacher placements without any formal training. We would not have enough people entering the profession because of the current social environment and lack-luster compensation schedules. Which is the greater evil? I think teacher prep programs are one of  the last systems to place blame for underachieving students in our K-12 system.

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