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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

House bill waters down teacher training in Ohio

BY LAWRENCE A. BAINES

WE LIVE in a world of linguistic manipulation.

The Blue Skies Initiative was a piece of federal legislation that would have allowed industries to pollute our skies at levels not seen since the 1950s. The Commodity Futures Modernization Act had nothing to do with modernization. Instead, the act liberated financial institutions from governmental oversight, which has resulted in the insolvency of banks and Wall Street firms across the United States.

A central tenet of the federal No Child Left Behind Act was to insure that all students be taught by highly qualified teachers. However, as with blue skies and modernization, the real meaning of highly qualified is less than one might expect.

Massachusetts, for example, has declared that anyone who holds a bachelor s degree and can pass a short, content-area test is highly qualified. In Texas, most future teachers take their entire preparation programs online without ever coming to face-to-face with a child.

In New Hampshire, highly qualified means a teacher needs just two courses in the field in which he or she will teach. In Arkansas, anyone with a bachelor s degree in any subject can legally teach two hours per day. In Idaho, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, a person who can get 55 percent of questions correct on a multiple-choice exam is considered highly qualified.

Until recently, Ohio has insisted on rigorous standards for its teachers and close regulation of the teaching profession. However, House Bill 1, currently under consideration in the General Assembly, has the potential to liberate the preparation of teachers much in the same way that the Commodity Futures Modernization Act liberated banks and the Blue Skies Initiative promised to liberate the air.

While some aspects of the complicated bill are benign, House Bill 1 contains several references to teacher quality, including one provision that will allow a single, six-week, summer course to qualify a person to teach.

In looking at countries whose students routinely score at the top Singapore, Finland, and Japan, for example none offer six-week teacher-preparation programs. In high-achieving nations, teacher preparation looks similar to programs in major research universities in the United States, such as the University of Toledo and Ohio State University. The problem is not that our best teacher preparation programs are inadequate we know teachers prepared at Research I institutions are among the most effective teachers in the world. The problem is that most teachers are not prepared in Research I institutions.

Last year, in Texas, which liberated teacher preparation some time ago, the University of Texas at Austin produced a grand total of 142 new teachers while alternative programs in the state produced approximately 10,000. If House Bill 1 goes unchallenged, numbers in Ohio will be similar.

It takes an electrician four years of intense training and field work to become certified; it takes a plumber five years. Certification for an undertaker takes 10 years. Ten years of training for an undertaker; six weeks of training for a teacher. Apparently, the handling of the dead is more important than the teaching of the living.

Lawrence A. Baines is the Judith Daso Herb Chair in Adolescent Literacy at the University of Toledo.



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