Middle School Teacher Preparation : Nebraska

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

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

Analysis of Nebraska's policies

Although Nebraska's elementary license is typically valid for grades 1-6, teacher candidates may teach grades 7 and 8 if they are in self-contained classrooms. The state articulates a middle grades (grades 4-9) endorsement; candidates must earn a minimum of 36 semester hours in two or more content areas. Teachers with secondary licenses may also teach single subjects in middle school; they must earn a major in their intended field.

Middle school teachers in Nebraska who are teaching on the middle grades endorsement or the secondary certificate are not required to pass a subject-matter test to attain licensure. Those seeking the generalist license are required to pass the general content test for elementary education, in which subscores are not provided; therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.

Citation

Recommendations for Nebraska

Prepare middle school teachers to teach middle school.
Nebraska should not allow middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license that does not differentiate between the preparation of middle school teachers and that of elementary teachers. These teachers are less likely to be adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level because their preparation requirements are not specific to the middle or secondary levels and they need not pass a subject-matter test in each subject they teach. Adopting middle school teacher preparation policies for all such teachers will help ensure that students in grades 7 and 8 have teachers who are appropriately prepared to teach grade level content, which is different and more advanced than what elementary teachers teach.  

Refine middle school subject-matter preparation policy.
Nebraska should also be more specific about its coursework requirements so that it is requiring the equivalent of two academic minors. Middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Require subject-matter testing for middle school teacher candidates.
Nebraska should require subject-matter testing for all middle school teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure.

State response to our analysis

Nebraska recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state noted that the middle grades endorsement is scheduled for revision in the next academic year, and Nebraska will likely address some of the recommendations made by NCTQ. 

How we graded

States must differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary teachers.

Middle school grades are critical years of schooling. It is in these years that far too many students fall through the cracks. However, requirements for the preparation and licensure of middle school teachers are among the weakest state policies. Too many states fail to distinguish the knowledge and skills needed by middle school teachers from those needed by an elementary teacher. Whether teaching a single subject in a departmentalized setting or teaching multiple subjects in a self-contained setting, middle school teachers must be able to teach significantly more advanced content than elementary teachers do. The notion that someone should be identically prepared to teach first grade or eighth grade mathematics seems ridiculous, but states that license teachers on a K-8 generalist certificate essentially endorse this idea.

Approved programs should prepare middle school teacher candidates to be qualified to teach two subject areas.

Since current federal law requires most aspiring middle school teachers to have a major or pass a test in each teaching field, the law would appear to preclude them from teaching more than one subject. However, middle school teacher candidates could instead earn two subject-area minors, gaining sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests and be highly qualified in both subjects. This policy would increase schools' staffing flexibility, especially since teachers seem to show little interest in taking tests to earn highly qualified teaching status in a second subject once they are in the classroom.  This only applies to middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects.  States must ensure that middle school teachers licensed only to teach one subject area have a strong academic background in that area.  

Research rationale

A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. U.S. Department of Education. Foundation for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education (2008).

For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see Dee and Chodes, "Out-of-Field Teaching and Student Achievement; Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review (2008); as B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of 8th grade teachers," in NSF/NELS 88: Teacher transcript analysis (Rockville, MD: Westat, 1995); H. Wenglinsky, How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2000). For information on the "ceiling effect," see D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "When should we reward degrees for teachers?" in Phi Delta Kappan 80, No. 2 (1998): 134-138.