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Sandra Stotsky: On Reforming Teacher Licensure and Training

Mar 31, 2015 by

An Interview with Sandra Stotsky: On Reforming Teacher Licensure and Training

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Sandra, while I know you and your work quite well, some of our readers may not. Could you just provide a quick summary of your experience and expertise?

I am professor emerita at the University of Arkansas, where I held the 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality until my retirement in 2012. I served as Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1999-2003, where I was in charge of developing or revising all the state’s K-12 standards, teacher licensure tests, and teacher and administrator licensure regulations. I served on the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from 2006-2010, on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from 2006-2008, and on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-2010. I was one of the five members of the Validation Committee who did not sign off on the standards as being rigorous, internationally competitive, or research-based.

I was also editor of the premier research journal, Research in the Teaching of English, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, from 1991 to 1997. I have published extensively in professional journals and written several books. In recent years, I have testified before many state legislative committees and boards on the flaws in Common Core’s standards and on the features of the academically rigorous English language arts standards that I developed for K-12 students and teachers in Massachusetts and that contributed to academic gains in all students.

I was also editor of the premier research journal, Research in the Teaching of English, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, from 1991 to 1997. I have published extensively in professional journals and written several books. In recent years, I have testified before many state legislative committees and boards on the flaws in Common Core’s standards and on the features of the academically rigorous English language arts standards that I developed for K-12 students and teachers in Massachusetts and that contributed to academic gains in all students.

2) Let’s set the framework here for the interview. Teachers in the 1950’s were different than teachers in the 1960’s, and obviously 1970’s and 1980’s and so forth- you obviously see where I am going with this. Yet the teacher TRAINING has not kept pace with the various changes in students and technology. Could you briefly discuss this?

The focus of my work in revising licensing regulations and tests was to ensure that new teachers were academically prepared to teach to demanding academic standards. The major problem that the mandated tests were to address was the academic competence of new teachers. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 mandated teacher tests of subject matter knowledge (as well as a test of their reading skills)–both were firsts for Massachusetts. That’s what state legislators were concerned about-the academic competence of new teachers

3) For many teachers- things were fine- until “mainstreaming and inclusion ” began- and then they were confronted with students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, autism, intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing problems, head injury, heath problems ( asthma, epilepsy, hay fever- and the list goes on ). Were colleges of education keeping pace with these changes?

They may have been keeping abreast of the different kinds of students now included in a regular elementary school class. But they had lowered the academic bar for admission to a teacher (and administrator) preparation program so that new elementary teachers, in particular, did not know enough mathematics, science, history, or about research-based reading instruction to teach effectively the beginning knowledge needed in these disciplines or the rudiments of beginning reading–the basic subject in the curriculum.

4) Classroom management and discipline problems have always been a concern. What specific skills do teachers need in the year 2015 that they did not need in say, 1955?

They probably need more classroom management skills than before. But they chiefly need more academic knowledge about the subjects they teach. The one characteristic of effective teachers that we know from high quality research is knowledge of the subject(s) they teach.

5) The paperwork nightmare seems to be something that Colleges of Education are not preparing future teachers for—or are they? And what kinds of preparation for IEP’s, FBA’s and BIP’s are they receiving nationwide?

They may be receiving too much preparation for paperwork requirements, and not enough academic coursework in the arts and sciences. They may also be receiving too much training in non-research-based pedagogical strategies, or ineffective pedagogical strategies. The orientation of most education schools is not towards effective strategies (i.e., research-based), but strategies preferred by education school faculty.

6) Moving along to tests- in your mind, is it better for teachers to have extensive command of pedagogy or their subject area-be it history, math, science, social studies, language arts?

The research reviewed by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel for its final report in 2008 was rather clear on this issue. The only characteristic it could find (as noted previously) related to effective teaching was command of the subjects teachers taught. This should not be surprising, as most pedagogies recommended and taught in education schools today do NOT have a basis in a large, credible body of well-designed research.

7) I believe that NES (National Evaluation Systems ) is located in your neck of the woods, and indeed, I have participated in their process. But they seem to focus on what ENTRY LEVEL teachers seem to need ( my emphasis, not theirs ). Is there a presumption that schools have quality, robust in-services and on going workshops ? And is this part of the big picture? And who evaluates the effectiveness of these in-services?

NES (now owned by Pearson) is one of the few teacher-licensing companies in this country. Licenses are required in most professions (e.g., medicine, law, CPA) for entry-level positions. For solo practice as a doctor, lawyer, or teacher of record, for example. For veteran professionals, each profession has worked out either further stages of licensure (boards in medicine) or continuing education in the form of professional development. It is in this area, too, that the Massachusetts regulations needed revision, and my staff and I had to work out criteria for stronger kinds of professional development. This country spends far too much money on PD, when it should require academically stronger candidates for admission to a teacher preparation program, to begin with. No country spends the kind of money we do for PD, which is oriented usually to pedagogy.

8) It must be difficult to construct tests that measure skills at the elementary level, middle school level and high school level that are valid and reliable. How involved have you been in the licensure process?

I worked regularly with staff at NES to develop the objectives and test items that prospective teachers would need to address on their licensure tests. I no longer do that; it was part of my job at the MA DoE. The Reading Foundations test I helped to develop (#90) was considered so much better as a stand-alone test of beginning reading knowledge for future elementary, special education, and early childhood teachers than similar tests by other teacher testing companies that 4 other states have recently adopted it: NH, NC, WI, and CT. They have also made their pass/fail score close to the one used in MA so that we can compare results someday. MA also developed in 2009 a 40-item separately score-able test in elementary mathematics and so far has only about a 55% pass rate on that test alone.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Why are revised teacher and administrator licensing regulations and licensure tests important aspects of education reform?

Because many people, including it seems the USED, seem to think that standards and tests for K-12 students are what matters. The factors that we need to address as a country to improve public education include drastic reforms of our education schools. The so-called “Massachusetts education miracle”–the significant and enduring gains made by Bay State students after 2005 until today–are due to more than first-rate K-12 standards. They are due, also, to the many changes made to the state’s licensing regulations and tests that were intended to strengthen who taught what in the K-12 classroom.

10) This is the year 2015…what kinds of skills will teachers need in 2020–and one last area–is there a teacher shortage, or a special education teacher shortage, and if so, what needs to be done to rectify the shortage?

We do not have a shortage of elementary teachers. We produce far too many. The shortage of special education teachers is usually a function of the state laws that are passed for student/teacher ratios and student services; i.e., the laws create the shortages.

We have a real shortage of secondary math and science teachers (and teachers of foreign languages). Those shortages might be addressed by (1) eliminate the single-salary schedule, which made schools pay the high school calculus teacher the same salary as the grade 1 teacher, or (2) bonuses for knowledgeable science and math teachers.

11) Your book – where can interested educational leaders find it and who is publishing it?

It was just published by Rowman & Littlefield in March 2015 and is also available on Amazon in hard cover, paperback, and as an e-book for Kindle.

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