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Arizona scores low in teacher preparation study

Policies to prepare students to teach is lacking, education group finds

Arizona is lacking policies that ensure proper training of future teachers, a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found.

In its 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, the nonpartisan research group based in Washington D.C., rated the delivery of well-prepared teachers in 2011 as a D- for Arizona.

Arizona’s score in 2009 was a D.

While NCTQ officials said Arizona lawmakers need to create policies that screen students entering teacher preparation programs and test their academic and teaching aptitudes, educators said the study is harsh on education facilities because it doesn’t look at all aspects of preparation.

The study does not criticize what higher education institutions are doing, but takes a closer look at what policies states have in place to ensure teacher quality, said Arthur McKee, NTCQ's managing director of teacher preparation studies.

Among problems the study found:

No admissions test for teacher preparation programs.

Forty states require an admission test to enter into a teacher preparation program with a university or college, McKee said. Nine other states also lack the test, he said.

This is important because it weeds out people who don’t have the academic background to teach in a classroom, he said.

No proper preparation of elementary school educators to teach core standards such as math, reading and writing.

Arizona has is no policy in place that would require teachers to know common core subjects in depth, McKee said.

No requirement for high-quality student teaching.

There are two things that should be required when it comes to student teaching: Student teachers should be placed with mentor teachers who have a track record of effectiveness student teaching should last at least 10 weeks, McKee said.

Some institutions, like the University of Arizona, have longer student-teaching programs, but there needs to be a statewide standard.

Arizona’s state policy does not require a licensing test for teachers to ensure that they understand the science of reading, McKee added.

“It has an enormous impact, which is seen in Massachusetts. They have a test, and it has helped them climb the ladder of reading skills,” he said.

Also, in Arizona there is a lack in K-12 special education certification, McKee said.

“There needs be a special background knowledge of how to teach special education kids,” he said.

Someone who majored in elementary education shouldn’t go into a high school class to teach math or literature to special education children, McKee said, who again pointed to Massachusetts as a state doing well with teacher preparation.

What separates Massachusetts from other states is a rigorous test on how to teach reading and math, McKee said.

If you can’t pass, you can’t teach in that state and the testing ensures proficient teachers enter into schools, he said.

Teacher preparation is as essential to teaching as medical training is for doctors, he said.

Ronald Marx, the dean of University of Arizona’s College of Education, criticized the study, and said that universities in Arizona are doing a good job at preparing future teachers.

Marx said teacher education is a profound issue and there have been changes that NCTQ did not include in the study.

The three major universities in Arizona are doing a good job at making sure to properly train future teachers, Marx said.

“I think it is harsh and insensitive to teachers in schools,” he said about the study.

The preparation programs are taking place in actual schools, he said. This allows a more clinical approach to teaching how to teach.

Marx does agree that there are policy changes that have to be made to help education in the state.

Instead of telling teachers how to teach, lawmakers should offer education institutions the goals they envision for children to achieve, he said.

The issue is that most policy makers aren’t education professionals, he said.

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Arizona Sonora News Service

Grades among states: Red=F, Orange=D, Blue=B, Green=A