Elementary Teacher Preparation: Michigan

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

Analysis of Michigan's policies

Although Michigan 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.

Michigan requires candidates to pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) general elementary content test, which does not report teacher performance in each subject area, meaning that it may be possible to pass the test and still fail some subject areas.

In addition, all teacher candidates in Michigan must complete an approved program of general or liberal education, including English, literature, humanities, social sciences, natural or physical sciences, and the arts. These are sensible requirements, but they are too ambiguous to guarantee that the courses used to meet them will be relevant to the topics taught in the PK-6 classroom.

Elementary teacher candidates in Michigan are also required to complete one of the following sets of coursework: a major of not less than 30 semester hours or a group major of 36 semester hours along with a planned program minor of 20 semester hours in "other substantive fields deemed appropriate to elementary education," or three minors of not less than 20 semester hours each with two being in substantive fields that may include a group minor of 24 semester hours and the third being a minor of 20 semester hours or a group minor of 24 semester hours in a content area appropriate to elementary education.

Michigan also articulates teacher standards that include detailed descriptions of the knowledge teachers must have in important areas such as life, earth and space science; history, geography, political science and economics; and visual and performing arts. Although these standards are better than those found in most states, they could benefit from additional specificity to ensure that teachers have acquired the basic knowledge in areas such as British literature and art history.

Further, objectives for the MTTC content test require sensible fields of study, including U.S. history and geography; life, physical and earth sciences; and art and music. However, they do not make specific mention of important subject areas such as world history and British and American literature.

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

Citation

Recommendations for Michigan

Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Michigan 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, Michigan should ensure that these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
Although Michigan outlines a more specific set of content standards than most states, the state should either articulate an even more detailed set of standards or establish more 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.
Michigan's policy requiring elementary candidates to earn an academic major or minor is undermined because it may be met through a "group" approach. Unlike an academic major or minor, this approach will not necessarily enhance teachers' content knowledge or ensure that prospective teachers have taken higher-level academic coursework. Further, it does not provide an option for teacher candidates unable to fulfill student teaching or other professional requirements to still earn a degree, as an academic major does. 

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 subject-matter foundation.

State response to our analysis

Michigan recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that based on new elementary standards, an elementary education test is being developed with two separate assessments that must be passed separately. The first assessment will include English language arts/world language, social studies, and visual and performing arts. The second will include mathematics, science, health education and physical education. Michigan anticipates that this new test will be operational beginning October 2013.

Further, the state noted that the MTTC basic skills subtests for mathematics and writing are being revised to align with Michigan's mathematics high school content expectations, which align with the Common Core Standards for mathematics and the Common Core Standards for English writing and language, respectively. These subtests are also due to be operational beginning October 2013.

Last word

While two separate assessments with separate passing scores is a step in the right direction, the state should guarantee that its content test ensures appropriate subject-matter knowledge in all major academic areas that elementary candidates will teach.

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).