Raising standards required for becoming a teacher is a laudable goal, but making it tougher to enter the field won’t by itself improve educational outcomes in Michigan. Our problems are bigger than that.
The House of Representatives’ Education Subcommittee recently approved $3.6 million to revamp the state’s teacher certification tests. The appropriation would allow the Department of Education to accelerate efforts to toughen the exams, something state Superintendent Mike Flanagan has said is a priority.
We agree, and we encourage both chambers of the Legislature to send it on to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. It’s been more than a decade since Michigan updated these exams, which by most accounts are laughably easy.
As Bridge Magazine’s Ron French reported in his “Building a Better Teacher” series last fall, when the Education Department beefed up the test all aspiring teachers must take before they are allowed to student teach, the pass rate plummeted from 82 percent on previous exams to 26 percent. Flanagan at the time hailed the test results as proof that the state was serious about letting only the most qualified teachers into Michigan classrooms.
The infusion of cash means that the department will be able to roll out the new tests in two years rather than the estimated 11 years it would have otherwise taken, and that faster timetable is worth the investment.
But let’s keep it real. Tougher certification tests won’t by themselves lead to a higher level of performance in Michigan classrooms, nor will they address the underlying systemic — and political — issues that stunt professional growth in public education.
There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to poor educational outcomes in Michigan, but too much of that blame is misplaced at the feet of teachers.
As a state and a nation, we can press for higher admissions standards into teaching programs, and those programs can do a better job of aligning themselves with the demands of today’s classrooms.
It’s not at all clear, however, that so-called “smarter teachers” will fix what ails public schools, certainly not without significant efforts to improve the conditions and resources available to educators.
We’ve seen little evidence that our teachers lack skills or expertise. What they lack, rather, is time, guidance and support necessary to be fully effective and grow in their careers.
Poorly compensated relative to other professions, teaching in the United States has long struggled to be seen as the profession that it is. Policymakers, many of them in Lansing, seem to prefer a high-turnover teaching force that is minimally trained.
The overemphasis on standardized tests, punitive evaluation policies and bureaucratic regulations combined with larger class sizes and undersourced classrooms combine to create a high rate of turnover among teachers. About 40 percent of all teachers leave within the first five years of starting their jobs — more than any other profession.
There’s nothing wrong with demanding higher standards from aspiring teachers, but policymakers should take into account that high achievers have standards as well, among them the opportunity to work in an environment in which they feel valued and adequately compensated.
Until we decide that teaching is a serious profession that demands substantial public investment, we will not produce the skilled teachers that are needed to address the needs of our children.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS