Elementary Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should ensure that its teacher preparation programs provide elementary teachers with a broad liberal arts education, providing the necessary foundation for teaching to college- and career-readiness standards. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Content Test Requirements: New York offers an elementary license to teach grades 1-6. New Yorks' State Teacher Certification Examinations (NYSTCE) Multi-Subject: Teachers of Childhood (Grades 1-6) test is divided into three separately scored subtests. The first subtest includes literacy and English language arts, the second subtest focuses on math and the third subtest combines science, social studies and the arts/health/fitness/family and consumer science/career development.
Academic Requirements: Elementary education candidates in New York must also earn a bachelor's degree or higher that must include: a general education core in the liberal arts and sciences, a content core, and a pedagogical core. The content core requires candidates to "complete study in the subject(s) to be taught which shall prepare candidates with the knowledge base to teach the subject(s), in accordance with the State learning standards for students."
New York State Teacher Certification Examination www.nystce.nesinc.com Section 52.21(b)(ix) and Section 52.21(b)(ii)(a) of the Commissioner's Regulations
Require all elementary teacher candidates to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Although New York is on the right track by administering a three-part licensing test, thus making it harder for teachers to pass the overall test if they fail some subject areas, we encourage the state to further strengthen its policy and require separate passing scores for each core subject on its elementary test. Doing so will help to ensure that every student is taught by a teacher with adequate subject-matter knowledge.
Require elementary teacher candidates to complete a content specialization in an academic subject area.
Although New York's policy requires that elementary teacher candidates have at least a liberal arts and sciences concentration, the state's language does not ensure that these teachers will earn a content specialization in an academic subject area.
New York was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. In addition, New York indicated that the Multi-Subject Content Specialty test consists of three parts: 1) literacy and English language arts, 2) mathematics, and 3) art and sciences where 40% of this part's test score is based on science and technology, 40% is based on social studies, and 20% is based on fine arts, health and fitness, family and consumer science, and career development.
2A: Elementary Content Knowledge
Elementary teachers need liberal arts coursework that is relevant to the preschool through grade 6 classroom. College- and career-readiness standards, adopted by nearly all states, represent an effort to significantly raise expectations for the knowledge and skills American students will need for post-high school success and global competitiveness. However, many states' policies fail to ensure that elementary teacher candidates will have the subject-area knowledge to teach to these standards. Even when states specify liberal arts requirements for teacher candidates, the regulatory language can be quite broad, alluding only minimally to conceptual approaches such as "quantitative reasoning" or "historical understanding." Another common but inadequate approach that states take is to specify broad curricular areas like "humanities" or "physical sciences." A humanities course could be a general overview of world literature—an excellent course for a prospective elementary teacher—but it could also be "Introduction to Film Theory." Likewise, a physical science course could be an overview of relevant topics in physics, chemistry, and astronomy, or it could focus exclusively on astronomy and fail to give a teacher candidate an understanding of the basic concepts of physics. Too few states' requirements distinguish between the value gained from a survey course in American history, such as "From Colonial Times to the Civil War," and an American history course such as "Woody Guthrie and Folk Narrative in the Great Depression."
In addition to the common-sense notion that teachers ought to know the subjects they teach, research supports the benefits to be gained by teachers being broadly educated. Teachers who are more literate—who possess richer vocabularies—are more likely to be effective. Some states still require that elementary teacher candidates major in elementary education, with no expectation that they be broadly educated. Others have regulatory language that effectively requires the completion of education coursework instead of liberal arts coursework by mandating only teaching methods courses in subject areas without also requiring content-based coursework in the areas themselves.
Standards-based programs can work when verified by testing. Many states no longer prescribe specific courses or credit hours as a condition for teacher candidates to qualify for a license. Instead, they require teacher candidates to complete an approved program that meets state-specific standards or standards set forth by accrediting bodies and leave it at that. The advantage of this "standards-based" approach is that it grants greater flexibility to teacher preparation programs regarding program design.
However, a significant disadvantage is that the standards-based approach is far more difficult to monitor or enforce. While some programs respond well to the flexibility, others do not. Standards are important but essentially meaningless absent rigorous tests to ensure that teacher candidates have met them. Not all states that have chosen the standards-based approach have implemented such tests. In their absence, verifying that teacher preparation programs are teaching to the standards requires an exhaustive review process of matching every standard with something taught in a course. This approach is neither practical nor efficient. Tests of broad subject matter or tests that require only a passing composite do not offer a solution, given that it is possible to pass without necessarily demonstrating knowledge in each subject area. For instance, on many tests of teacher content knowledge, a passing score may be possible while answering every chemistry question incorrectly.
Mere alignment with student learning standards is not sufficient. Another growing trend in state policy is to require teacher preparation programs to align their instruction with the state's student learning standards, and this is likely to increase with the introduction of new college- and career-readiness standards. In many states, this alignment exercise is the only factor considered in deciding the content to be delivered to elementary teacher candidates. Alignment of teacher preparation with student learning standards is an important step but by no means the only one. For example, a program should prepare teachers in more than just the content that the state expects of its fourth graders. Also critical is moving past alignment and deciding the broader set of knowledge a teacher needs to be able to effectively teach fourth grade. The teacher's perspective must be both broader and deeper than what he or she will actually teach.
An academic concentration enhances content knowledge and ensures that prospective elementary teachers take higher-level academic coursework. Few states require prospective elementary teachers to major or minor in an academic subject area. Consequently, in most states these teachers can meet subject-matter requirements without taking any advanced-level coursework. At minimum, states should require a concentration in an academic area. In addition to deepening subject-matter knowledge in a particular area, building this concentration into elementary education programs ensures that prospective teachers complete academic coursework on par with peers earning bachelor's degrees in other areas.
A concentration also provides a fallback for education majors whose programs deem them unready for the classroom. In most education programs, virtually all coursework is completed before candidates begin student teaching. The stakes are high once student teaching begins: if a candidate cannot pass, he or she cannot meet requirements for a major or graduate. This may create a perverse incentive for programs to set low standards for student teaching and/or pass candidates whose clinical experience is unsatisfactory. If they were required to have at least an academic concentration, candidates who failed student teaching could still complete a degree with minimal additional coursework.