Low teacher quality leads to low student quality, which, in turn, leads to uneducated teachers, which then leads to….
What qualities does a good teacher have? Opinions abound, but love of kids, great work ethic, organization, an engaging personality, clear objectives for lessons, and effective discipline techniques are often mentioned. But, as important as any, a teacher must possess certain educational skills.
And it is that last quality that is least respected by the education establishment. Over the last year or so, many states including Arizona, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah and New York have lowered their requirements for becoming a teacher. Perhaps New York is the most egregious case, having gutted its literacy test for aspiring teachers in March. Cheered on by the state’s teachers union, this ugly move was inflicted by the New York State Board of Regents.
The reason for getting rid of the test – which teachers could pass with a mastery of 8th grade skills – was that too many blacks and Hispanics were failing it. So the oh-so-caring education poohbahs in the Empire State now subject kids to teachers who don’t have the knowledge or skills to teach what the students are expected to learn. If the South had perpetrated this canard on black kids in the segregated 1950s, civil rights leaders would have been justifiably apoplectic.
As National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh points out, opponents of the test claimed it was simply “unnecessary.” A bachelor’s degree, they argued, should serve as enough evidence that the graduate is literate. But a federal study in 2005 revealed that just “25 percent of college graduates — and only 31 percent of those with at least some graduate studies — scored high enough on the tests to be deemed ‘proficient’ from a literacy standpoint….” And in the years since, literacy ain’t got no better.
To be blunt, just how do we expect kids to learn high school English from teachers who haven’t mastered high school English?
One state that has not ditched its skills test for teachers is California, but the Golden State, where 50 percent of all school children (almost 70 percent of blacks) can’t read at grade level, can hardly look down on New York. The California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) for teachers is alive and well, but, like New York’s former test, the test measures only 8th grade reading and math skills. When I took the test in 1985, I was stunned at how easy it was. A typical question:
Amy drinks 1-1/2 cups of milk three times a day. At this rate, how many cups of milk will she drink in one week? A. 4-1/2; B. 7-1/2; C. 10-1/2; D. 21-1/2; E. 31-1/2
How would you feel if your kid’s algebra teacher couldn’t answer the above?
Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, puts the situation into perspective. “Eliminating the [test just] to increase the number of unqualified, unprepared Black and Latino prospective teachers is the most racist and destructive action taken under the guise of diversifying NY’s teachers. We, Black and Latino parents, do not want teachers who cannot pass a basic literacy test. We don’t care about the color or race of the teacher, we want highly effective teachers teaching our children.”
It bears repeating: It’s not racist to administer a test to teachers that measures skills, even if minorities fail in great numbers. By getting rid of the test, the educational establishment guarantees that the next generation of minorities will be as uneducated as their teachers. Now, that’s racist and the epitome of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.