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Wanted: the best approach for training teachers

New testing data are confirming what many educators have long believed: that the quality of a teacher is the most powerful predictor of how well students will learn.

But educators are drawing very different conclusions as to what such a correlation means. Some insist that teachers are not qualified unless they have completed all the education coursework required in a traditional training program. Others argue that what counts is content knowledge, and the key to improvement is breaking down layers of requirements that keep capable people out.

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For example, a recent analysis of third-grade reading scores in California schools shows that students who score poorly on standardized tests are five times more likely to have an "underqualified" teacher than the highest-achieving students. "Without the political courage and will to provide every student a fully qualified and effective teacher, the state has no right to hold either schools or students accountable for high levels of achievement," reports a new study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, in Santa Cruz, Calif.

The authors caution that alternative routes could be a "disincentive" to new teachers to "complete - or even begin - their preparation before entering the classroom as a full-time teacher."

California's alternative program has produced about 2,000 teachers since 1994. But, Texas has trained more than 19,000 new teachers through such programs since 1995. Preliminary studies signal that these candidates perform better than teachers with traditional teachers college training.

A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington argues there is a link between quality teaching and student performance, but it's not based on teachers' education courses: The strongest teachers convey "verbal ability and subject-matter knowledge. Yet burdensome certification requirements deter well-educated and eager individuals who might make fine teachers....".

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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