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May 23, 2009

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.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at May 23, 2009 1:44 AM
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