A Fair Chance: Simple steps to strengthen and diversify the teacher workforce

Breaking it down: Education program requirements

Set undergraduate and graduate program content course requirements that align with what elementary teachers need to know.

General education requirements will not touch on every content area aspiring elementary teachers need (e.g., children's literature and elementary mathematics). Programs can review the institution's general education requirements to identify gaps in content, and then can include those courses as part of the requirements for the education program. Unlike most content coursework (which should be intended for a general college audience), these may be targeted specifically to teacher candidates – but they should still emphasize content, not pedagogy.

To learn where to find information about what content is included in teacher licensure tests, see Guidance for topics in states' tests. For examples of course syllabi that address core content, see these samples provided by the Core Knowledge Foundation.

What's worked for other teacher prep programs?
These are real tips from leaders of the teacher prep programs featured in our list of Programs that Rise Above the Others.

• Conduct a needs analysis: Examine the requirements for what your candidates need to learn, including the state's standards or competencies, licensure test requirements, and the curricula of schools in which they're likely to teach. Determine which areas your candidates already take courses. When there are gaps, identify whether your institution already offers relevant courses that can be substituted or added as requirements. One program described creating a matrix which they used to determine whether every state standard is covered in one or more courses.

• Use existing program reviews: Higher education programs generally have periodic program reviews that are a mandated part of the institution's accreditation requirements. Education program faculty can use this as an opportunity to revisit course requirements and to work collaboratively with the arts and sciences faculty and those from other colleges who have a role in preparing teacher candidates.

• Be prescriptive: Rather than giving teacher candidates lots of options to choose from, be clear about which courses are essential.

• Design your methods courses to build on content, not teach it for the first time: Leaders from many teacher prep programs shared that they want their candidates to enter the preparation program already knowing core content. While methods courses will by necessity incorporate content and pedagogical content knowledge, these methods course work best when they can build on content that candidates have already learned, rather than having to teach an entire topic area from scratch.

• Prepare for a long process: Programs described needing seven or eight months to make programmatic changes. By having clear support for why their candidates needed to learn core content (e.g., from state standards), garnering buy-in from the relevant faculty, and building a clear plan of action, programs were able to stay the course and make changes that lead to better outcomes for their candidates.

• Seek continuous input to guide improvement: In addition to looking at licensure test scores, programs can gather feedback from cooperating teachers, supervisors, and novice teachers to learn what's working well and how the program can supplement its current practice. In fact, seeking ongoing stakeholder input is also part of CAEP's expectations.

For examples of undergraduate teacher preparation programs that require aligned content in most areas, see 
Programs with strong content requirements.