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Empowering Our Educators

Want to Empower Educators? Give Them A Fair Chance at the Start


Kate Walsh

President, NCTQ

When we think about empowering teachers, we envision ways to give them more autonomy, resources, and support. While these things are important, they largely ignore what teachers need and want the most: better training before they start teaching.

My organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality, just released some fairly distressing findings that provide more evidence that a majority of the 1,400 colleges and universities in this country that claim to prepare teachers are failing to do the job.

A rising concern

It turns out that a majority of elementary teacher candidates struggle to qualify for their state’s teaching license — after having spent lots of tuition dollars and four years in college to pursue the dream of becoming a teacher. More elementary candidates fail (56 percent) than pass their licensing test on their first attempt. This lies in stark comparison to other professions, such as nursing, where only 15 percent fail their licensing exam on the first try.

More discouraging is the fact that candidates of color are hit hardest. Already more likely to be disadvantaged by an inequitable system of K-12 education, only 38 percent of black teacher candidates and 57 percent of Hispanic teacher candidates pass the most widely used licensing test even after multiple attempts. Our nation’s schools, desperate to hire more teachers of color, lose out simply because institutions aren’t attending to basic preparation in math, English, social studies, and science — the foundational subjects of the elementary curriculum.

Prioritizing education curriculum

There is a simple solution. Institutions need to do a much better job making sure teacher candidates don’t take just any science or history course, but the courses that are most relevant to the topics required for elementary teaching. Rather than taking a course on the sexual revolution, candidates might take a course on the American Revolution. 

Low pass rates on many licensing tests have fueled a backlash in many states against the tests themselves, with calls to discard the tests or make them easier. But these responses elide the central problem that these tests only diagnose. When a university admits a student into its teaching program, it needs to provide reasonable assurance of success.

If we truly want an empowered, diverse, and effective teacher workforce, we have got to focus on improving teacher preparation.

Kate Walsh, President, NCTQ, [email protected]

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