Middle School Teacher Preparation:
Pennsylvania

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-20

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Pennsylvania offers middle school candidates two design options. The first option is the completion of one concentration (30 credit hours) in either English/language arts and reading, math, science or social studies. Candidates must then complete 12 credit hours in each of the remaining three areas. The second option is the completion of a concentration in two content areas. The state recommends a minimum of 21 credits in each content-area concentration, with 12 credits in each of the two remaining content areas.

All new middle school teachers in Pennsylvania are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure. 

Commendably, Pennsylvania does not offer a K-8 generalist license.

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Ensure meaningful content tests. 

To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Pennsylvania should make certain its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania noted that its system is based on competencies and does not require credits. There is a model program in the guidelines but the credit numbers are only examples. Programs are reviewed on evidence of covering the competencies, and the tests are aligned to the same competencies, which are based on the PK-12 standards. The number of credits depends on the program design.

How we graded


Research rationale

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.