More work to be done on teacher quality

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As the end of the school year approaches, a team of Maine’s education leaders is working to develop new ways to assess how well Maine’s teachers and principals do their jobs. This so-called “stakeholder group,” which is comprised of members representing Maine’s teachers, school administrators, superintendents and school boards, is looking for better ways to measure the effectiveness of Maine’s educators.

If a new national report is to be believed, though, Maine has an awfully long way to go if it wants to ensure that every child in our state has a great teacher and a great school.

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based research organization with a singular focus on improving teacher quality. Each year, the council produces its comprehensive State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which grades all 50 states on the extent to which they have policies in place that lead to effective classroom teaching.

According to the NCTQ, Maine ranks among the very bottom in terms of policies that promote effective teaching. Of the 50 states graded in the council’s most recent report (www.nctq.org), no states were given grades of A or B, eight states were awarded Cs, 39 states got grades of D and three states received the grade of F.

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Maine was one of the three states, along with Vermont and Montana, that got an overall grade of F. In fact, of the five teacher policy categories that the NCTQ analyzed, Maine was the only state to be given a grade of F in four of them.

For instance, Maine is one of only three states in the nation that got an F for “delivering well-prepared teachers.” It is too easy, the NCTQ says, for teachers in Maine to get their teaching certification. The coursework Maine requires teachers to take, the council says, is too easy. At the elementary level, teachers can teach even if they do not have a solid background in core subjects such as math and reading. Maine does require aspiring teachers to pass a national test, but allows them to teach even if they “fail some subject areas” of the test.

The NCTQ also gave Maine an F for “expanding the pool of teachers.” Only seven other states scored as poorly in this category. Just as it is too easy for new teachers starting out to get a teaching certificate, it is also too easy for mid-career teaching candidates to enter the field. These “non-traditional” candidates do not have to show “prior academic performance,” and do not have to pass subject-matter tests, according to the NCTQ.

Maine was given yet another F by the NCTQ for “identifying effective teachers.” Maine’s law is silent, the council says, on how school districts are to determine whether a teacher is effective. Maine’s law, for instance, does not require that teachers actually be observed in their classrooms, and does not require that Maine’s teachers show any evidence that their students have actually learned. And, Maine’s law says nothing about how often new teachers are to be evaluated.

Maine earns its fourth and final F from NCTQ for “exiting ineffective teachers.” Maine has no law requiring teachers receiving an unsatisfactory rating on their teacher evaluations to be put on some kind of improvement plan, and the state has no process whereby persistently ineffective teachers can be dismissed. It is too hard, says the council, for Maine’s school districts to get poor teachers out of the classroom.

Maine did slightly better in the area of “retaining effective teachers,” earning a C- in this area. The state got high marks for mentoring new teachers, for instance, but lost points for not having performance-based pay programs or systems whereby teachers are paid more for teaching in high-need schools or in subject areas where there are teacher shortages, such as science and math.

In summary, then, it is too easy to become a teacher in Maine. Once hired, there are no clear ways to determine teacher effectiveness and no established processes for removing ineffective teachers from the classroom.

The task force at work in Augusta today is looking for new ways to assess how well our teachers and principals are doing, but if Maine is to guarantee that all of its children have access to a great teacher and a great school, far more work will need to be done.

Stephen Bowen is a former teacher and directs the Center for Education Excellence at The Maine Heritage Policy Center.

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