The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
Regrettably, Nebraska allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license, 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 content areas. Teachers with secondary licenses may also teach single subjects in middle school; they must earn a major in their intended field.
Effective September 1, 2015, most teacher candidates must earn a passing score on a Praxis II content test as a condition of initial licensure. However, only elementary and secondary teachers teaching the middle grades are required to pass an assessment. At this time, testing is not required for middle grades education.
Praxis Test Requirement http://www.education.ne.gov/EducatorPrep/Archive/EmailArchive/Attachments/ContentTestScoresChart.pdf Nebraska Department of Education Title 92 Chapter 24
Require content testing in all core areas.
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. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.
Eliminate the generalist license.
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.
Encourage middle school teachers licensed to teach multiple subjects to earn two subject-matter minors.
This would allow candidates to gain sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests, and it would increase schools' staffing flexibility. However, middle school candidates in Nebraska who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.
Nebraska was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that it does not consider it "regrettable" that its licensing structure and associated preparation is designed to meet the needs of very small/geographically isolated schools.
Nebraska added that its middle grades endorsement is scheduled for revision in the next academic year, and the state will likely address some of NCTQ's recommendations. The intent is that a content testing requirement will be implemented after the endorsement is revised.
NCTQ is certainly not advocating against K-8 schools and can see why such configurations are particularly advantageous for geographically isolated areas. But middle school-level students in a K-8 school still need teachers who are well prepared to teach middle school-level subject matter.
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.
Middle School Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research
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. Foundations 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 T. Dee and S. Cohodes, "Out-of-Field Teachers and Student Achievement: Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review, Volume 36, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 7-32; B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics," in NSF/NELS:88 Teacher transcript analysis, 1995, ERIC, ED389530, 112 p.; 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, Volume 80, No. 2, October 1998, pp. 134, 136-138.