Why Arizona (and Other States) Are Wrong About Teacher Hiring

Arizona is the latest state to sign into law that people with 5 years of “relevant” field experience may enter the teaching profession without teaching training and credentials. (Washington Post)

Why would they do this?

Teacher shortage is a problem in many states and this allows a fast track to fill vacancies.

While many may see this as a solution to the problem, I feel this policy is faulty and may result in causing more problems than it fixes.

Here are three reasons why this is a bad idea.

Content Knowledge vs. Pedagogical Knowledge

Which do you think is more important, content knowledge or pedagogical knowledge?

Laws, such as the one passed in Arizona, put an emphasis on content knowledge. They assume that having someone with real life experience in the field has everything they need, and perhaps more, to be successful in the classroom teaching their content area.

As much as that may sound reasonable, the literature on this topic disagrees.

Darling-Hammond (2000) studied data from 50 states in order to examine how teacher qualifications relate to student achievement. Their quantitative analysis shows that “teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics” (p. 1).

In regards to subject matter, Darling-Hammond notes:

Subject matter knowledge is another variable that one might think could be related to teacher effectiveness. While there is some support for this assumption, the findings are not as strong and consistent as one might suppose. Studies of teachers’ scores on the subject matter tests of the National Teacher Examinations (NTE) have found no consistent relationship between this measure of subject matter knowledge and teacher performance as measured by student outcomes or supervisory ratings. (p. 3)

Why might pedagogical knowledge be of more value? Darling-Hammond suggests:

It may be that the positive effects of subject matter knowledge are augmented or offset by knowledge of how to teach the subject to various kinds of students. That is, the degree of pedagogical skill may interact with subject matter knowledge to bolster or reduce teacher performance. (p. 6)

In other words, subject matter knowledge alone will not get the teaching job done. A teacher’s pedagogical knowledge and skill will enhance a teacher’s performance, or conversely, a lack of pedagogical knowledge and skill could hinder teacher performance.

It’s not to say that people who join the profession from another field will not bring valuable knowledge with them to the classroom, but that isn’t enough. Pedagogical knowledge has been shown to be of greater importance in terms of student achievement.

Misguided Beliefs About Special Populations

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 73% of public schools in the United States had at least 1 ELL in the 2011-2012 school year.

What does this mean for teachers? Chances are high that teachers will teach an ELL in their classroom.

The problem with hiring people from other professions to be teachers is they come to the classroom without the proper preparation to work with special populations such as ELLs.

In fact, they are most likely entering the classroom with detrimental misconceptions about these populations.

In their study on teacher beliefs, Dixon, Liew, Daraghmeh, and Smith (2016) sought to understand the beliefs held by preservice teachers about language learning, their attitudes toward ELLs, and any misconceptions or biases regarding ELLs that may exist. The researchers found that preservice teachers held certain misconceptions about language learning and that those misconceptions affected their views of ELLs, and likely, ELL performance.

In a new study which I helped co-author(under review), we looked at the effect of teacher preparation programs on changing the beliefs preservice teachers have about ELLs. Our results suggest that Second Language Acquisition courses have a positive effect on preservice teacher beliefs about ELLs.

Beliefs are important.

They affect our teaching in ways most of us do not realize.

Like the preservice teachers in the Dixon et al. study, those coming from other professions will likely hold similar misconceptions to those of preservice teachers. These misconceptions could result in many of our most vulnerable students falling through the cracks.

School Culture and Professionalism

The Learning Policy Institute issued a report titled “The Role of Principals in Addressing Teacher Shortages.” One of the areas that teachers identified in the report as a reason to stay or leave a school is “school culture and collegial relationships.”

Justin Minkel further reiterates this point in his article “Cracking the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Code”.

Many of us have chosen to teach at our school for over a decade. It’s not because we couldn’t get hired in a heartbeat at a more affluent school where kids face fewer challenges. Five teachers at our school are National Board Certified and most have a Masters. One of our teachers won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science last year, and both our Principal and Assistant Principal have been named Principal of the Year for the entire state of Arkansas.

Being in a professional atmosphere with trained, experienced, and knowledgeable colleagues is important to teachers. Marzano (2003) addresses the importance collegiality and professionalism in his book “What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action.” He defines collegiality as “characterized by authentic interactions that are professional in nature” (p. 61) and lists it as a key component for successful schools.

I can personally testify to the importance of collegiality and professionalism from experience.

In the past, I worked at a school with only 40% of the teachers being certified teachers. It hadn’t always been that low, but as the school grew and the problem of teacher shortages had risen, the school had no choice but to fill the classrooms with unqualified teachers.

I witnessed firsthand how the lack of professionalism on the part of those without licenses had on the morale of those who were licensed. Veteran teachers felt frustrated and disconnected from their colleagues. Unfortunately, the school culture quickly became toxic, with many veteran teachers, who had dedicated years to the school, looking for other options.

Laws allowing people to bypass teacher certification risk alienating many certified teachers who may ultimately decide to move on to something else, further exacerbating the teacher shortage.

Conclusion

Pedagogical knowledge matters.

Teacher beliefs matter.

And collegiality and professionalism in teaching matters.

States such as Arizona who think anyone can just walk in the classroom and be a teacher are severely misinformed.

While it may help alleviate a teacher shortage in the short term, what about the long lasting effects?

Will student achievement suffer? Will the achievement gap widen? Will we be left with an unqualified teaching force and an even larger teacher shortage?

These are questions I would challenge Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and other state governors to ponder.

Resources

Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1), 1-44.

Dixon, L. Q., Liew, J., Daraghmeh, A., & Smith, D. (2016). Pre-service teacher attitudes toward English language learners. NABE Journal of Research and Practice, 7(1). Retrieved from https://www2.nau.edu/nabej-p/ojs/index.php/njrp/article/view/97/99

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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