Middle School Teacher Preparation : Tennessee

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Tennessee results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TN-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Tennessee requires middle grades certification (grades 4-8) for all middle school teachers. Candidates must earn one of the following: an interdisciplinary major that includes study in English, mathematics, science and social studies; an interdisciplinary major in two disciplines from the arts and sciences; or a major in a single discipline from the arts and sciences with an area of emphasis in at least one additional discipline outside the major.

All new middle school teachers in Tennessee are also required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, candidates are only required to pass the general middle school content test, 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 Tennessee

Require subject-matter testing for middle school teacher candidates.
Tennessee is commended for not allowing middle school teachers to teach on a K-8 generalist license. However, Tennessee 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. 

Differentiate between single and multiple subject middle school teachers.
Tennessee may also want to consider only requiring two minors for middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects, rather than two majors, or a major and a minor.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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.