What Should a “Highly Qualified Teacher” Mean?

Apr 17, 2003 by

Martin Haberman
Distinguished Professor University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Martin Haberman

What a “highly qualified teacher” means is a function of who says so. This should not be the case. “Highly qualified” should mean that the children of these teachers learn more. “Highly qualified” should stand for accomplishment not for promises that will never be kept. “Highly qualified” should not be a label stuck on the foreheads of 22 year old girls and boys because they have completed university based teacher education programs but will not seek employment in poverty schools or will quit or fail if they do.

For the last 180 years professional educators and subject matter specialists have fought over the knowledge base required for teachers. This is not merely an academic debate but one that involves control over university curricula which translates into vast sums for Schools of Education vs. more funding for Arts and Science Colleges. The fight becomes even more heated as it deals with which group will control the criteria used by the states to license teachers.

The issue that has transformed this long-smoldering debate into a volcanic eruption is the widespread growth of alternative certification. It is now clear that the 120 largest urban districts serving seven million diverse children in urban poverty cannot get the teachers they need from traditional university based teacher education programs. Forty two states have now legitimized some form of alternative certification. This enables school districts to recruit college graduates with subject matter knowledge but without professional training to become fully responsible teachers of record.

As Schools of Education see the power they thought they had to control state licensing agencies evaporating they realize that they are in a fight for their very existence. In desperation almost every urban university now offers something they call “alternative certification”. The national associations representing Schools of Education even offer sessions at their annual meetings devoted to how to start such programs.

In many schools serving diverse children in poverty a “highly qualified” teacher simply means one who can maintain order without sending too many students to the office. To the professional educators high quality is determined by input and process criteria. Did the individual complete an accredited teacher education program and pass a written test of best practice? To the those committed to only subject matter knowledge the criteria of high quality are a written test of content knowledge and the absence of professional training. If knowledge of how to teach were the primary attribute of high quality teachers then professors of Education could effectively teach in the Oakland, Baltimore or New York City Schools. If knowledge of content were all that were necessary then professors of math could teach in the middle schools of Kansas City. Those who seriously believe these things are dangerous.

There can be no question that the teacher’s knowledge of the subject matter to be taught is basic and must be the heart of any regulations regarding teacher licensure.

The next step is to determine whether those possessed of this knowledge base can relate to and interact with children in positive ways while employed in the mindless bureaucracies of the major urban districts. This is something that can be assessed by the Star Urban Teacher Interview. The third step is to assess the learning of the children of these teachers and award the label “highly qualified” to teachers on the basis of results. In the meanwhile the more appropriate term is “Highly Qualified to Begin”. This label should be used with those who have the first two qualities: subject matter knowledge and the demonstrated ability to relate to children and youth in failing districts..

Dr. Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor of Education, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is the author of “Star Teachers Serving Children in Poverty” (Kappa Delta Pi, 1995) He is actively involved in the MTEC alternative certification program in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Each year, all of the MTEC candidates are selected using the Urban Teacher Selection protocol. To date, the program has a 94% retention rate for the last 11 years.

The Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc. was chartered to promote his research-based interviews. The Foundation leaders have trained school administrators in over 160 cities. ….Delia Stafford, President, The Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc.

via Haberman Educational Foundation.

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