Elementary Teacher Preparation: South

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation: South Carolina results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/SC-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of South Carolina's policies

Although South Carolina has adopted the Common Core Standards, the state does not ensure that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach the rigorous content associated with these standards.

South Carolina now requires candidates to pass the Praxis II "Elementary Education: Instructional Practice and Applications" test. Regrettably, this is not an adequate assessment of content knowledge. The description of topics assessed and sample questions focus almost exclusively on methods and instructional strategies, and although it is a sound approach to assess pedagogical knowledge in the context of specific content areas, that does not mean that such a test measures content knowledge.  

Although the state does not specify any coursework requirements for general education or elementary teacher candidates, South Carolina has adopted NCATE's Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) standards for approving its elementary programs. However, ACEI standards fall far short of the mark by offering no mention of world and American history; world, British and American literature; American government; or grammar and composition. ACEI standards do mention important topics in science, but even in those areas, its standards consist mainly of extremely general competencies that programs should help teacher candidates to achieve.

Finally, there is no assurance that arts and sciences faculty will teach liberal arts classes to elementary teacher candidates.


Recommendations for South Carolina

Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
South Carolina is urged to require an elementary assessment that adequately tests subject-matter knowledge, rather than its current selection, which is more a test of pedagogy. 

Further, the state should ensure that this subject-matter test for elementary teacher candidates is well aligned with the Common Core Standards, which represent an effort to significantly raise the standards for the knowledge and skills American students will need for college readiness and global competitiveness. 

South Carolina should also 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, South Carolina should ensure that these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
South Carolina should either articulate a more specific set of standards or establish comprehensive coursework requirements that are specifically geared to the areas of knowledge needed by PK-6 teachers. Further, the state should align its requirements for elementary teacher candidates with the Common Core Standards to ensure that candidates will complete coursework relevant to the common topics in elementary grades. 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 South Carolina 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.

State response to our analysis

South Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, the analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.

The state added that it has an integrated plan to implement the Common Core throughout its P-20 system and noted that it would be inappropriate for preparation programs to currently be aligned with the Common Core because it will not be used for student assessments until 2014-2015. NCATE and the appropriate Special Professional Associations (SPAs) are working to align preparation programs' curriculum to the Common Core, which will be synchronized with the implementation of Common Core in schools.

In addition to requiring elementary programs to meet NCATE's ACEI standards, South Carolina pointed out that it requires all programs to meet all applicable state Standards for Educator Preparation Programs, one of which relates to the preK-12 academic standards: "All educator preparation candidates must know, understand and demonstrate the use of national and state student academic achievement standards for all subject areas in which they will be certified to teach. Educator preparation units must provide assessment data to indicate that candidates know, understand, and can apply the appropriate South Carolina preK-12 academic standards." 

Therefore, the state asserted, in order to meet this requirement, elementary education programs must demonstrate far more than "seat time" requirements for their candidates. Instead, programs must demonstrate that they effectively provide and assess specific content knowledge and skills that relate to all applicable state academic standards.  

South Carolina also contended that NCTQ's recommended approach focuses on preparation inputs (i.e., "seat time") rather than on candidate performance. "It is important to give colleges of education (COEs) the flexibility to meet the needs of their candidates. We believe that the approach taken by programs like ABCTE and Teach for America is demonstrating that flexibility balanced with accountability is the best approach."

Last word

NCTQ strongly agrees that flexibility balanced with accountability is the best approach. The key to accountability, though, is a strong content test, and the state's current licensure assessment does not ensure that elementary candidates will be prepared to teach the rigorous content associated with the Common Core Standards.  

Research rationale

Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research 3, No. 1 (2003): 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1950s? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review 14 (1995), 1-21.

Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See Willingham, D. T., "How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens comprehension, learning—and thinking," American Educator 30(1), (2006).

For the importance of teachers' general academic ability, see R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation 28 (1991), 465-498; R. Greenwald, L. Hedges, and R. Laine, "Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Students' Outcomes," Educational Researcher 23, no. 3 (1994), 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro-Data," American Economic Review 61, no. 2 (1971), 280-288; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research 66 (1996), 397-409; H. Levin, Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, ed. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976); D. Monk and J.R. King, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review 12, no. 2 (1994), 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record 84, no. 3 (1983) R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research 10 (1981), 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record 80, no. 1 (1978), 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies," Economics of Education Review 5 (1986), 41; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

Sandra Stotsky has documented the fact that teacher candidates often make inappropriate or irrelevant coursework choices that nonetheless satisfy state requirements. See S. Stotsky, "Can a State Department of Education Increase Teacher Quality? Lessons Learned in Massachusetts," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy, ed. Diane Ravitch (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

On the need for colleges and universities to improve their general education coursework requirements, see The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2004). For a subject-specific example of institutions' failure to deliver solid liberal arts preparation see, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).

For information on teacher licensing tests, see The Academic Quality of Prospective Teachers: The Impact of Admissions and Licensure Testing (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1999). A study by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J.Vigdor of elementary teachers in North Carolina also found that teachers with test scores one standard deviation above the mean on the Elementary Education Test as well as a test of content was associated with increased student achievement of 0.011 to 0.015 standard deviations. "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" The Calder Institute (2007).
For information on where states set passing scores on teacher licensing tests across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).