The introduction of teacher evaluations in New York state has raised expectations for teachers in the classroom. But perhaps more important, in the long run, is what’s expected of them before they get there. Fortunately, the state is in the process of making the teacher education and certification process more rigorous, and a professional entry exam, like the one would-be lawyers must pass, is the latest positive development.
A variety of factors goes into whether students pass or fail, but a big one is the quality of the teacher, especially in inner-city schools. Studies have shown that excellent teachers can give students a year-and-a-half of education in one school year; a poor teacher, just half a year in the same school year.
But colleges tend not to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers or require much of them once they're there. Too many prospective teachers were mediocre students in high school and finished their college teacher programs with lots of educational theory and little subject knowledge or practical classroom management skills. The failings of our schools of education are why this newspaper has long supported alternative routes to the classroom.
But the state now appears to be on the right track, having adopted a number of the recommendations of the New NY Education Reform Commission, an expert panel created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 to find ways to improve schools. These include a requirement that those applying for a graduate education program have a 3.0 GPA (a “B”) as undergraduates; those applying for an undergraduate program must have a 3.0 or be in the top one-third of their high school graduating class. New teachers are also expected to have subject knowledge and more clinical experience — i.e. real-life experience in the classroom as interns and student teachers.
The new bar-like exam, which was delayed for one year last year but is being implemented now, continues these healthy changes. It has three parts. One will test traditional literacy, another subject knowledge, and another classroom ability through videotapes, lesson plans and other measures.
This is going to make education schools more selective. It will also make it possible to weed out the bad programs and weak teaching candidates. Overall, teachers will benefit as the prestige of the profession is raised. But the biggest beneficiaries will be kids, who will be getting more of the excellent teachers they need and deserve.