Elementary Teacher Preparation: Virginia

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation: Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/VA-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of Virginia's policies

Virginia does not ensure that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach a broad range of elementary content.

Virginia requires candidates to pass the Praxis II general elementary content test, which does not report teacher performance in each subject area, meaning that it is possible to pass the test and still fail some subject areas, especially given the state's low passing score.

Although the state does not specify general education requirements, all elementary teacher candidates in Virginia must complete a major in interdisciplinary studies or in Virginia's core academic areas, which include English, history and social sciences (i.e., history, government, geography and economics) and science. These are sensible indicators of important curricular areas, but there is no guarantee that the courses used to meet these requirements will be relevant to the PK-6 classroom.

Because elementary education candidates must earn an arts and sciences degree, this ensures that liberal arts coursework is commendably taught by arts and sciences faculty.

Finally, Virginia has articulated elementary teaching standards that are better than those found in many states and allude to important areas of academic knowledge. For example, in the area of history and social sciences, elementary teacher candidates are expected to understand:

  • The contributions of ancient civilizations to American social and political institutions;
  • Major events in Virginia history from 1607 to the present;
  • Key individuals, documents and events in United States history; and
  • The evolution of America's constitutional republic, its ideas, institutions and practices.
However, the state's standards do leave gaps in a number of important areas, namely American, world, British and children's literature.

Citation

Recommendations for Virginia

Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Virginia should 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, Virginia should ensure that  these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
Although Virginia outlines a more specific set of content standards than most states, the state should either articulate an even more specific set of standards or establish more comprehensive coursework requirements that are specifically geared to the areas of knowledge needed by PK-6 teachers. 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.
Virginia's policy requiring elementary candidates to earn an academic major is undermined because it may be met with an interdisciplinary major. Unlike an academic major, an interdisciplinary major will not necessarily enhance teachers' content knowledge or ensure that prospective teachers have taken higher-level academic coursework. Further, it does not provide an option for teacher candidates unable to fulfill student teaching or other professional requirements to still earn a degree, as an academic major does. 

State response to our analysis

Virginia asserted that content outlined in student standards must be addressed in the elementary program as well as the outlined competencies. Each content area must include the knowledge, skills and processes of history and the social sciences disciplines as defined in the state's Standards of Learning, and how the standards provide the necessary foundation for teaching that content area.

The state also noted that individuals with a degree from a regionally accredited college or university with an interdisciplinary major may not have student-taught. If the individual is eligible for an alternate route, he or she must meet all content requirements for licensure even though that individual has an interdisciplinary major.  

Virginia reiterated that individuals seeking an endorsement in elementary education must have an arts and sciences degree, and that these courses are taught by arts and sciences faculty.  

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).