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.
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.
Nebraska Department of Education Title 92 Chapter 20, Section 005.08 and Chapter 24, Section 006.19
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.
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."