Elementary Teacher Preparation: Nebraska

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.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation: Nebraska results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NE-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of Nebraska's policies

Nebraska does not ensure that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach a broad range of elementary content.

Unfortunately, Nebraska has yet to adopt subject-matter testing requirements, as a condition of licensure, for any of its teachers.

Teacher candidates in Nebraska must complete 40 credit hours in "general education courses." This is a sensible amount of coursework to require, but without more guidance regarding the topics these courses should cover, this policy is not nearly specific enough to guarantee that they will be relevant to the topics taught in the PK-6 classroom.

Nebraska also requires elementary teacher candidates to complete at least 30 semester hours of coursework in areas that include English/language arts (communication, including literature, composition and speech), science, and social studies/history. A minimum of six semester hours is required in each area. (For mathematics requirements, see Goal 1-D.) The state also requires an unspecified amount of coursework in fine arts, health and wellness, and humanities. These are all sensible requirements, but, again, they could benefit from a greater degree of specificity. The state's current policies offer no guarantee that its elementary teacher candidates will study American history and government, geography or biological science.

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

Citation

Recommendations for Nebraska

Require a content test—as a condition of licensure—that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Nebraska should adopt a subject-matter test for elementary teacher candidates and 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, Nebraska should ensure that these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
Nebraska should either articulate a specific set of standards or establish more comprehensive coursework requirements that are specifically geared to the areas of knowledge needed by PK-6 teachers. 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 Nebraska 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 subject-matter foundation.

State response to our analysis

Nebraska was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state acknowledged its requirement of 40 hours of general education coursework, and pointed out that it also requires 40 hours of professional education coursework, which includes curriculum, methodology and assessment related to teaching K-8 students in all areas of the elementary curriculum. "These courses support acquisition of content and how to use it in the classroom."

Further, Nebraska contended that its Rule 24 Guidelines provide specific information about the competencies expected of a program completer. "Although the Guidelines imply they are 'recommended,' all institutions are held accountable to the elements in the Guidelines through the program approval process."

Finally, Nebraska disagreed with the determination that elementary teachers are not prepared to teach a broad elementary curriculum. It noted that general education courses and content courses are taught by arts and sciences faculty in all institutions, even though it is not specifically mandated by the state. Nebraska also reiterated its general education requirements, which include coursework in science, social sciences, English/language arts and mathematics. "However, it is true that our educator preparation guidelines are not explicit about the distribution of these courses in the institution's program."
 

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).