Unqualified Teachers Want Sympathy For Handicapping Our Youth

Published September 12, 2007

Tracy Jan’s exposé on minority teachers failing certification exams, even in their designated fields, should be more than an eye-opener for those who continue to believe the blind can lead the blind (“Minority Scores Lag On Teaching Test, Panel To Study Failure Rate, Bias Complaints,” August 19).

The usual protectors of the dignity of non-performing minority teachers are quick to reassure us that the validity of the test is to be questioned due to potential for “cultural biases.” As education school deans ask for the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure to be redesigned, they also lament that we should determine “whether the quality of education that minority teaching applicants receive is good enough.”

So a Cambridge attorney drafts a lawsuit alleging cultural bias against the testing company and the State of Massachusetts on behalf of a special education teacher who has failed the test several times since 1998. And a consultant retained by Boston Public Schools offers, “If you take the achievement gap of high school students, you can just project it forward into college and into the teaching ranks.”

Is it possible that poorly educated public school students can become poorly educated college students, and then, poorly educated teachers of the next generation of poorly educated public school students? What a frightening specter of monumental incompetence. Teachers unions should organize to address this dilemma at least as vociferously as they organize against reforms such as school choice, which have shown proven methods for improving public schools through competition.

Massachusetts is certainly not alone in this crisis. This has been festering unrelentingly for the last 10 years. On September 6, 2001, five days before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., another disaster was unfolding in Illinois: Chicago Sun-Times staff reporters Rosalind Rossi, Becky Beaupre, and Kate N. Grossman identified “5,243 Illinois teachers failed key exams” that past spring.

“In Elgin District 46, students studied the English language with a teacher who had failed 21 of 21 tests for teachers…. Sun-Times found that teachers who struggled to pass their exams can pop up anywhere. Last school year, those who needed at least four tries to pass a single certification test were teaching children in a North Shore junior high, a Palatine special-education classroom and a Hoffman Estates high school.”

The distribution of “struggling teachers” does not trend toward suburban schools, however. It is the poorer inner-city schools of our nation, with the most educationally challenged academic-achievement-gapped minority students, that inherit the least qualified teachers in their dysfunctional public schools.

The Joyce Foundation commissioned research under the Education Trust for the entire Midwest to track this dismal phenomenon:

1.Illinois students in the highest-minority and highest-poverty schools are assigned teachers of significantly lower quality than their counterparts in schools that serve few low-income students and students of color. 2.The Illinois research also demonstrates the clear link between teacher quality and student achievement. In the highest-poverty high schools with high teacher-quality indices, twice as many students met state standards as did students in other similarly high-poverty high schools with low teacher-quality indices.

Researchers determined that “students in Illinois who attended schools with average teacher quality and only completed math up to Algebra II actually were more ready for college than their peers who completed calculus but went to schools with the lowest-teacher quality.” “This research shows once again that good teachers can have an enormous impact on student achievement,” said Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation. It is time that we accept the challenge of reforming non-performing schools which miseducate teachers so they can miseducate students. No more special pleading for those would-be practitioners who are handicapping our children and demanding higher taxes for the privilege.

Ralph W. Conner ([email protected]) is local legislation manager at The Heartland Institute.