Wisconsin bill to boost math and science teachers risky for students

Peter Hewson & Eric Knuth:

While this legislation is well-intentioned, it will ultimately do more harm than good — and it is the children in the most troubled schools who will pay the price.
Here’s why: SB 175 is intended to attract math and science professionals (engineers and scientists) into teaching, based on the belief that they have the necessary subject-matter knowledge. The bill would allow them to get teaching licenses almost entirely on the basis of written tests (a math test, for example), as long as they receive some loosely specified form of mentoring during their first year on the job.
There’s nothing wrong with using written tests, and mentoring new teachers is a great idea. But neither is sufficient to protect children from dangerously under-prepared teachers.
Although subject-matter knowledge is essential to good teaching, the knowledge required for teaching is significantly different from that used by math and science professionals. A well-constructed certification program gives beginning teachers a crucial knowledge base (of math or science as well as about teaching) and helps them develop the skills and practices that bring this knowledge to life.
There’s a reason that so many certification programs immerse new teachers in classroom tasks gradually: It gives them a chance to make their mistakes and sharpen their skills in more controlled, lower-stakes contexts before handing them primary responsibility for a classroom of students.

2 thoughts on “Wisconsin bill to boost math and science teachers risky for students”

  1. Yes, SB175 might result in some math and science teachers who lack sufficient teaching pedagogy to initially be effective 6th- through 12th-grade teachers. However, it will still provide a significant improvement over what will be happening in WI middle and high schools during the next decade if we fail to do anything new to attract people into teaching who possess math and science content knowledge. Large numbers of teachers who were initially hired during the 1960s and 1970s are retiring or will be doing so in the near future. We need people to replace them. Currently, most math and science classes in WI middle schools are being taught by K-8 generalists, not math- or science-certified teachers. Many of these teachers may lack interest in acquiring the content knowledge to become outstanding math and science teachers, preferring to wait until they have sufficient seniority to get assigned to teach other subjects they prefer. Do we really want our 8th graders studying pre-algebra with teachers who lack both the math content knowledge and love for the subject? There aren’t enough college students majoring in math-ed and science-ed to fill all of the positions that will become open in WI schools in the next few years. Given this situation, passing SB175 is a lot better idea than doing nothing to generate the needed teachers.

  2. I’m in the uncomfortable position of disagreeing with both viewpoints expressed thus far.
    SB175 is offered as a silver bullet to poor education in math and science, while the arguments against SB175 are acknowledged but written off.
    As I see it, there are two facts which no one could reasonably disagree (naive?).
    1) One cannot teach a subject that one does not understand, (Think of music teachers!). But, I don’t believe a masters degree or PhD in the subject matter is necessarily a requirement.
    2) Just because one has substantial knowledge of a subject does not mean one can teach the subject to others. It may not be the absence of pedagogy (as I understand that term), but it may be a personality issue that is incompatible with teaching at least to a certain class of students. Of course, lack of appropriate teaching methods would be another reason, but we need to evaluate the appropriateness of the pedagogy that is being taught.
    SB175 recognizes fact 1, but ignores the seriousness of fact 2.
    But the Hewson and Knuth article makes the valid argument that ensuring teachers learn to teach is critical. I have no personal experience with the pedagogy being taught to teachers. I’ve read articles quite critical of the teacher’s curriculum, and find some of the “theories” being propagated without merit.
    I think supporters for SB175 must believe that what is taught to teachers is of little or no value, a position which Hewson and Knuth do not address.

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