The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."...  ...William Butler Yeats

Commentary of the Day - May 12, 2002:  A Response to The Irascible Professor's Commentary on the California Teacher Shortage (May 3, 2002).  Guest Commentary by Perry Marker.

The debate over the implications of California State Senate Bill 1646 has heated up considerably in the past few days.  The IP has received a number of emails in response to his May 3, 2002 commentary suggesting that the shortage of teachers in California is as much a retention program as it is a supply problem.  In our May 3 commentary we came out against SB 1646 because, in our opinion, it would weaken the standards for elementary teaching credentials.  Much of the correspondence that we received supported our position that SB 1646 is a seriously flawed piece of legislation.  However we also received a spirited rebuttal to our position from Perry Marker, who is a faculty member in the School of Education at Sonoma State.  Perry writes:

Dear IP:

As a member of a School of Education (SOE) faculty, I was very concerned upon reading your editorial statement.  I found your "irreverent" statement riddled with inaccuracies, and  to be demeaning and offensive to our subject matter preparation and SOE faculty.

You state that "the new degree program would reduce the quality of the education that elementary teachers receive, it would lower the reputation of the teaching profession."

Simply put, this is not true.  In every education major I know, subject matter courses are required and are taught by the appropriate subject area faculty.  The education major will reflect the strength of content similar to that of any other major in the university.  I myself, am an "education major," focusing on the social studies, getting my degree from a university in the Midwest. I feel like I've done quite well thank you, in "holding my own" in my studies against majors in political science and history, at the masters and Doctorate levels.  My experience indicates that your concerns are groundless and in fact, distort the issue.

You also state that  "It makes little sense to the IP for the state to spend a fairly large amount of time and money educating a new teacher, when that new teacher is unlikely to remain in the classroom more than a few years."  So, what do we do stop educating teachers until 250 years of political and social indifference and intolerance toward teachers and the teaching profession be addressed?  We need high quality teachers NOW!  Let's work toward solving these problems but not at the expense of educating much needed new teachers.  In the Oakland, California schools alone almost 800 teachers were hired last year with an emergency credential and still more were hired without a bachelors degree.  The supply of teachers is a critical problem for California.

I agree that retention of teachers is an issue, (see the Beginning Teacher Support  and Assistance [BTSA], program for headway being made on this issue) but we cannot address it at the expense of educating new teachers.  The population in California is expected to rise to from its current 32 million to 50 million by 2021.  If we build ONE school per week for the next TEN years, we still can't keep ahead of the population increase.  In the next 10 years alone, we will need 300,000 teachers who are REPLACING those who are retiring; this does not address the NEW teachers we need for population growth.  Your negative and unfounded attitude toward an education major does nothing to enhance the reputation of all teachers, including university professors.

In a recent communication with me you were discussing the current situation in teacher education you said: "My  experiences in the liberal studies science course were mixed.  A number of the students (about a third) were [interested in] learning, [and] a joy to work with.  The middle third of the class was more interested in having me tell them what they needed to know to pass the exams than in really sinking their teeth into the material.  Nevertheless, I had no major qualms about them going on to teach in the elementary grades.  However, I did have serious doubts about the students in the bottom third of the class.  They turned in term papers that were logically incoherent, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and frequently off topic.  I certainly wouldn't want any of these people teaching my children, yet most of them will obtain teaching credentials."
While making this statement about the current  situation under the  Ryan Act, you seem to be arguing that room for improvement is needed; that the situation under the Ryan Act is in fact flawed.  I couldn't agree more. An education major would address and improve the current state of affairs to which you  refer.

Your solution?  ---  "California should not attempt to produce large numbers of relatively weakly prepared teachers. Instead, it should concentrate its efforts on improving teacher retention":

Unfortunately your solution:

1) ignores the current (BTSA) efforts to new retain new teachers;

2)  fails to address the retirement of tens of thousands of teachers, and

3) is not practical politically or socially as we examine population growth, and the current lack of support for improving the quality of life for teachers. What politician has a teacher's quality of life on his/her political radar screen?

At best, your solution barely masks the contempt you and others have for teacher educators, and for the development of a high quality education major.

I don't see the problem here. An education major would allow students to decide early in their academic life to select the noble profession of education. We need more teachers, period. We owe it to the children in California to continue to prepare high quality teachers, and more of them. 1646 presents an opportunity to do that.

And finally, welcome to the world to CALIFORNIA state teacher credentialing! We in the SOE have, and continue to be  micro-managed by the State of California. Whether we like it or not, our credentialing programs are under the direct influence of the State. We are currently revising our programs to meet MANDATED  state standards - many of which with we in the SOE seriously disagree. There is nothing new here. In light of some weaknesses, I find 1646 to one of the most reasonable pieces of educational legislation to come from our State Assembly in years.

I know not all faculty at SSU and the CSU  perhaps in the SOE agree with me. I also know that the debate will undoubtedly continue as long as this legislation is alive. But please, enough with the demeaning, disrespectful language and inaccuracies. If we must debate, and I encourage us all to become informed, let us do it the tradition of intellectual rigor, honesty and respect that the University demands.

Most sincerely,

Perry M. Marker
Education senator, Sonoma State University academic senate and professor and chair, department of curriculum studies and secondary education

©2002 Perry Marker
Perry Marker is a faculty member in the School of Education at Sonoma State University.

The IP responds: Clearly Perry and the IP disagree about the potential impact of SB 1646.  The IP agrees that we need high quality teachers.  However, a close reading of SB 1646 shows that the current academic major required of potential elementary teachers would be replaced by two subject matter "concentrations", which probably would consist of no more than 12 semester units each.  The undergraduate education major would be offered in, and controlled entirely by School of Education faculty.  While the changes contemplated by SB 1646 might indeed increase the production of new elementary teachers, it is by no means clear that they would be "high quality" teachers.

With regard to Professor Marker's comments about the weakness of the Ryan Act, the IP would agree that the Ryan Act is no panacea.  However, it does help provide some minimum academic standards for prospective teachers.  As an aside, those students in the bottom third of the IP's class probably did not qualify for the credential program at Cal State Fullerton.  The Fullerton credential program has relatively high standards for admission.  However, there are numerous other credential program that have lower standards.

The IP urges his readers to take a close look at the quote from Yeats at the top of the page.  The purpose of that academic major, in the IP's opinion, is to light the fire in the teacher so that she in turn can light the fire in her students.  However, to light that fire the teacher needs not only the knowledge and insight that the academic major provides, but also an appreciation of how young children learn, and practical knowledge about teaching techniques that work.  In the IP's view, the current approach that combines an academic major with extensive professional preparation for teaching is more likely to produce a high quality teacher than an undergraduate major in "elementary education" that has only a limited academic focus.  This is not meant to demean or insult School of Education faculty.  They make critically important contributions to the education of prospective teachers, and the IP has long recognized that.  Nor should it be assumed that the IP thinks that five-year teacher preparation programs should be the only route to a credential.  The Blended Teacher Education Programs (BTEP) that have been offered at the California State University campuses in the past few years allow a student to complete both an undergraduate academic major and the requirements for the preliminary teaching credentials in four years.

The IP is not alone in his opposition to SB 1646.  The Statewide Academic Senate of the California State University system, which includes some education faculty members in its ranks, recently voted unanimously to oppose the bill.  The IP also has heard from several other education faculty members who oppose SB 1646.


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© 2002 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.