Elementary Teacher Preparation

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

2011 Goals for Elementary Teacher Preparation

The state should ensure that its teacher preparation programs provide elementary teachers with a broad liberal arts education, the necessary foundation for teaching to the Common Core Standards.

Best practices

Although no state meets this goal, three states have noteworthy policies. Massachusetts's testing requirements, which are based on the state's curriculum, ensure that elementary teachers are provided with a broad liberal arts education. Indiana and Utah are the first two states to adopt the new Praxis II "Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects" content test, which requires candidates to pass separately scored subtests in reading/language arts, mathematics, social studies and science.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6
Best practice 0

States

Meets goal 0

States

Nearly meets goal 4

States

Meets goal in part 8

States

Meets a small part of goal 18

States

Does not meet goal 21

States

Do states require elementary candidates to study a subject in-depth?

2011
Figure details

Yes. State requires a major in an academic area.: CO, MA, NM

Yes. State requires a minor or a concentration in an academic area.: IN, NH, OK

Partially. State requires a major or minor but with significant deficiencies.: CA, CT, IA, MI, MO, MS, NJ, NY, TN, TX, VA, VT

No. State has no in-depth subject requirements.: AK, AL, AR, AZ, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MN, MT, NC, ND, NE, NV, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, UT, WA, WI, WV, WY

How we graded

Elementary teachers need liberal arts coursework that is relevant to the PK through 6 classroom.
The Common Core Standards, adopted by nearly all states, represent an effort to significantly raise expectations for the knowledge and skills American students will need for college readiness and global competitiveness.  However, many states' policies fail to ensure that elementary teacher candidates will have the subject-area knowledge to teach to the Common Core Standards. Even when states specify liberal arts requirements for teacher candidates, the regulatory language can be quite broad, alluding only minimally to conceptual approaches such as "quantitative reasoning" or "historical understanding." Another common but inadequate approach that states take is to specify broad curricular areas like "humanities" or "physical sciences." A humanities course could be a general overview of world literature—an excellent course for a prospective elementary teacher—but it could also be "Introduction to Film Theory." Likewise, a physical science course could be an overview of relevant topics in physics, chemistry and astronomy, or it could focus exclusively on astronomy and fail to give a teacher candidate an understanding of the basic concepts of physics. Too few states' requirements distinguish between the value gained from a survey course in American history, such as "From Colonial Times to the Civil War," and an American history course such as "Woody Guthrie and Folk Narrative in the Great Depression."

In addition to the common-sense notion that teachers ought to know the subjects they teach, research supports the benefits to be gained by teachers being broadly educated. Teachers who are more literate—who possess richer vocabularies—are more likely to be effective. In fact, of all the measurable attributes of a teacher, teacher literacy correlates most consistently with student achievement gains. Some states still require that elementary teacher candidates major in elementary education, with no expectation that they be broadly educated. Others have regulatory language that effectively requires the completion of education coursework instead of liberal arts coursework by mandating only teaching methods courses in subject areas without also requiring content-based coursework in the areas themselves.

Standards-based programs can work when verified by testing.
Many states no longer prescribe specific courses or credit hours as a condition for teacher candidates to qualify for a license. Instead, they require teacher candidates to complete an approved program that meets state-specific standards or standards set forth by accrediting bodies—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI)—and leave it at that. The advantage of this "standards-based" approach is that it grants greater flexibility to teacher preparation programs regarding program design.

However, a significant disadvantage is that the standards-based approach is far more difficult to monitor or enforce. While some programs respond well to the flexibility, others do not. Though the ACEI/NCATE standards may be beneficial, they are too general for states to rely on in their efforts to ensure adequate subject-matter training. For example, ACEI's standard for social studies requires that elementary teacher candidates be "able to use knowledge, skills and dispositions from social studies to organize and provide integrated instruction in grades K-6 for the study of major themes, concepts, and modes of inquiry drawn from academic fields that address: (1) culture; (2) time, continuity, and change; (3) people, places, and environment; (4) individual development and identity; (5) individuals, groups, and institutions; (6) power, governance, and authority; (7) production, distribution, and consumption; (8) science, technology, and society; (9) global connections; and (10) civic ideals and practices." These broad concepts do very little to articulate the actual knowledge that elementary teacher candidates should possess.

Standards are important but essentially meaningless absent rigorous tests to ensure that teacher candidates have met them. Most states that have chosen the standards-based approach have not implemented such tests. In their absence, verifying that teacher preparation programs are teaching to the standards requires an exhaustive review process of matching every standard with something taught in a course. This approach is neither practical nor efficient. Tests of broad subject matter are also not the solution, given that it is possible to pass without necessarily demonstrating knowledge in each subject area. For instance, on many tests of teacher content knowledge, a passing score is possible while answering every mathematics question incorrectly.

Mere alignment with student learning standards is not sufficient.

Another growing trend in state policy is to require teacher preparation programs to align their instruction with the state's student learning standards, and this is likely to increase with the introduction of the Common Core Standards. In many states, this alignment exercise is the only factor considered in deciding the content to be delivered to elementary teacher candidates. Alignment of teacher preparation with student learning standards is an important step but by no means the only one. For example, a program should prepare teachers in more than just the content that the state expects of its fourth graders. Also critical is moving past alignment and deciding the broader set of knowledge a teacher needs to be able to effectively teach fourth grade. The teacher's perspective must be both broader and deeper than what he or she will actually teach.

An academic concentration enhances content knowledge and ensures that prospective elementary teachers take higher-level academic coursework.

Few states require prospective elementary teachers to major or minor in an academic subject area. Consequently, in most states these teachers can meet subject-matter requirements without taking any advanced-level coursework. At minimum, states should require a concentration in an academic area. In addition to deepening subject-matter knowledge in a particular area, building this concentration into elementary education programs ensures that prospective teachers complete academic coursework on a par with peers earning bachelor's degrees in other areas.
A concentration also provides a fallback for education majors whose programs deem them unready for the classroom. In most education programs, virtually all coursework is completed before candidates begin student teaching. The stakes are high once student teaching begins: if a candidate cannot pass, he or she cannot meet requirements for a major or graduate. This may create a perverse incentive for programs to set low standards for student teaching and/or pass candidates whose clinical experience is unsatisfactory. If they were required to have at least an academic concentration, candidates who failed student teaching could still complete a degree with minimal additional coursework.

Subject-area coursework should be taught by arts and sciences faculty.
Most states do not explicitly require that subject-matter coursework be taught by academics in the field, that is, faculty from a university's college of arts and sciences. While an education professor who specializes in science education, for instance, is well suited to teach effective methodologies in science instruction, a scholar in science should provide the foundation work in the subject itself.

States cannot leave these decisions entirely to teacher preparation programs because sending teacher candidates to the college of arts and sciences to complete coursework can run counter to programs' financial interests.

Research rationale

Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research 3, No. 1 (2003): 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1950s? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review 14 (1995), 1-21.

Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See Willingham, D. T., "How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens comprehension, learning—and thinking," American Educator 30(1), (2006).

For the importance of teachers' general academic ability, see R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation 28 (1991), 465-498; R. Greenwald, L. Hedges, and R. Laine, "Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Students' Outcomes," Educational Researcher 23, no. 3 (1994), 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro-Data," American Economic Review 61, no. 2 (1971), 280-288; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research 66 (1996), 397-409; H. Levin, Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, ed. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976); D. Monk and J.R. King, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review 12, no. 2 (1994), 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record 84, no. 3 (1983) R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research 10 (1981), 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record 80, no. 1 (1978), 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies," Economics of Education Review 5 (1986), 41; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

Sandra Stotsky has documented the fact that teacher candidates often make inappropriate or irrelevant coursework choices that nonetheless satisfy state requirements. See S. Stotsky, "Can a State Department of Education Increase Teacher Quality? Lessons Learned in Massachusetts," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy, ed. Diane Ravitch (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

On the need for colleges and universities to improve their general education coursework requirements, see The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2004). For a subject-specific example of institutions' failure to deliver solid liberal arts preparation see, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).

For information on teacher licensing tests, see The Academic Quality of Prospective Teachers: The Impact of Admissions and Licensure Testing (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1999). A study by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J.Vigdor of elementary teachers in North Carolina also found that teachers with test scores one standard deviation above the mean on the Elementary Education Test as well as a test of content was associated with increased student achievement of 0.011 to 0.015 standard deviations. "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" The Calder Institute (2007).
 
For information on where states set passing scores on teacher licensing tests across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).

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