Elementary Teacher Preparation: Alabama

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation: Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Although Alabama has adopted the Common Core Standards, the state does not ensure that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach the rigorous content associated with these standards.

Alabama requires candidates to pass the Praxis II general elementary content test, which does not report teacher performance in each subject area, meaning that it is possible to pass the test and still fail some subject areas, especially given the state's low passing score. Further, based on available information on the Praxis II, there is no reason to expect that the current version would be well aligned with the Common Core Standards.

In addition, all teacher candidates in Alabama must complete coursework in the humanities, social science and science. Elementary teacher candidates, specifically, must complete 12 credit hours each in English, science and social science. (For mathematics requirements, see Goal 1-D.) Unfortunately, the state's coursework requirements lack the needed specificity to guarantee relevancy to the elementary classroom.

Alabama's teacher standards address some important subject areas, particularly reading and writing instruction. The standards also mention areas in science, such as physical, life and earth science, and in social studies, such as geography, economics and political science. However, crucial areas are missing, such as American and world history; American, world and children's literature; and art history.

Finally, there is no assurance that arts and sciences faculty will teach liberal arts classes to elementary teacher candidates.

Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Alabama should ensure that its subject-matter test for elementary teacher candidates is well aligned with the Common Core Standards, which represent an effort to significantly raise the standards for the knowledge and skills American students will need for college readiness and global competitiveness.

The state should also require separate passing scores for each content area on the test because without them it is impossible to measure knowledge of individual subjects. Further, to be meaningful, Alabama should ensure that these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
Alabama should either articulate a more specific set of standards or establish comprehensive coursework requirements that are specifically geared to the areas of knowledge needed by PK-6 teachers. Further, the state should align its requirements for elementary teacher candidates with the Common Core Standards to ensure that candidates will complete coursework relevant to the common topics in elementary grades. An adequate curriculum is likely to require approximately 36 credit hours in the core subject areas of English, science, social studies and fine arts.

Require at least an academic concentration.
An academic concentration, if not a full academic major, would not only enhance Alabama teachers' content knowledge, but it would also ensure that prospective teachers have taken higher-level academic coursework. Further, it would provide an option for teacher candidates unable to fulfill student teaching or other professional requirements to still earn a degree. 

Ensure that arts and sciences faculty teach liberal arts coursework.
Although an education professor is best suited to teach effective methodologies in subject instruction, faculty from the university's college of arts and sciences should provide the subject-matter foundation.

State response to our analysis

Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it has adopted a resolution in support of the Common Core Standards and has found a close link between them and the content prescribed in the Alabama Course of Study. Program approval standards require that candidates are able to teach to the content of the course(s) of study applicable to their teaching field(s).  

Alabama also noted that prior to approval, programs must comply with the Alabama Quality Teaching Standards and the requirements unique to elementary education. In addition to submitting a performance assessment template (PAT) indicating which required courses meet each standard for elementary education, institutions submit a checklist that specifies all of the courses required to complete a program. Courses are taught by faculty in the arts and sciences, and verification may be obtained by reviewing institution catalogs or by surveying deans of education.

In addition, Alabama pointed out that programs must also meet standards that address the typical teaching responsibilities of elementary teachers in the areas of reading, writing, and oral language; science; mathematics; social studies; the arts; health education; and physical education.

Further, the state asserted that NCTQ recommends but does not define a "concentration," indicating that a concentration would enhance teachers' content knowledge. Alabama questioned whether the requirement of upper-level courses in one subject would improve an elementary teacher's ability to teach all subjects.

Finally, the state added that it is beginning to modify and enhance its testing requirements. The first group of new assessments includes a reading test. The next group to be validated will include a test that requires prospective elementary teachers to earn a passing score in each of four academic disciplines: English language arts, mathematics, science and social science. 

Last word

Ideally, elementary teacher candidates would complete advanced academic coursework in every subject they teach. But because this is not particularly feasible, NCTQ recommends that all elementary education candidates complete at least one academic concentration, which is the equivalent of a minor in a relevant content 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 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 from the program. 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.

In addition, throughout the country, there is an increasing tendency of preparation programs to provide subject-matter content in education schools. To ensure that teacher preparation programs continue to require that arts and sciences faculty teach liberal arts classes, Alabama is encouraged to codify this practice.

Lastly, NCTQ commends the efforts of states, like Alabama, that have advocated for a new elementary education test from ETS. Requiring subscores for each of the content areas is a significant step toward ensuring that all elementary teachers possess the requisite knowledge for the classroom. NCTQ looks forward to reviewing Alabama's progress in future editions of the Yearbook.

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).