TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Ready or not: New teachers and the transition to higher standards

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In the five years since most states adopted Common Core State Standards or their own version of college- and career-readiness standards, about one million new teachers have graduated from teacher preparation programs in the United States. With five years lead time, we thought the time was right to look at whether states have aligned their requirements for teacher preparation and licensure with the skills needed to prepare students for college and careers.

The 2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbookfinds that most states have yet to make the critical changes this alignment necessitates. With such profound changes occurring in K-12 standards, it would stand to reason that requirements for new teachers would be changing, too. We looked across states' requirements for teachers' subject-matter knowledge and skills related to the instructional shifts demanded by the new standards— such as the focus on the use of complex informational text across all subject areas, as well as admission and accountability requirements for teacher preparation programs. We found just five states – Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas – that are on the right track for ensuring new teachers are ready.

In addition to these five states, Arkansas is also noteworthy, having done more than most other states to revise its standards for teachers to reflect the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards. 

Most states have considerable work to do. An area of particular neglect is preparation of special education teachers, where the findings are especially grim:

- 34 states offer or exclusively grant K-12 special education teacher licenses that make no distinction between preparation to teach elementary or secondary grades. This policy sends an important and devastating message about special education: there is no need for any specific subject or grade-level content or pedagogy knowledge for teachers of any special education students ages 5-17.

- Just 15 states require any special education teachers to pass subject-matter tests. Although most special education students are expected to meet the same high college- and career-readiness standards as other students, too many states set a lower bar for licensing special education teachers.

- Of the 18 states that require general education elementary teachers to pass a test of effective reading instruction, seven do not require the test for elementary special education teachers. Considering that reading difficulties are the primary reason for referrals to special education, the failure to transfer this important requirement to special education teachers is nothing short of baffling.

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