Monday, January 11, 2010

A Question of Quality

Every day, I spend a little time searching a variety of news sources for important or interesting -- or funky -- education news articles. Most of the articles wind up featured on Education World's EDscoops page. Every once in a while, an article strikes a chord and shows up on my blog. Such is the case today.

The first article to catch my eye was from The Courier-Journal, which reported that the state panel overseeing teacher licensing in Indiana had approved new rules that "will allow future educators to spend less time learning how to teach and more time focused on subject matter." According to school superintendent Tony Bennett, "We crafted these changes with the belief that students' academic success is determined, in large part, by the quality of their teachers."

I agree with Mr. Bennett's premise that teacher quality is the single most important factor in student academic success; I strongly disagree with his conclusion that teacher quality is determined more by subject-matter knowledge than by classroom management and instructional skill.

In fact, the second relevant article I read this morning was from Education Week. Majoring in Math Not Always a Classroom Plus cites a report released last year by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel that "found no evidence of a link between teachers’ degree attainment in college and student academic gains in elementary and middle grades." There is a difference, the article points out, between mathematical knowledge and "mathematical knowledge for teaching" -- and policy makers need to keep that distinction in mind when setting standards for teacher quality.

The bottom line -- in my mind -- is that prospective teachers first and foremost need to know how to teach. If they don't learn how to do that well, nothing they do learn will benefit their students.

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