Kansas gets a low score in the national report on teacher preparation by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released January 25. Unfortunately this shallow survey is driven by ideology, not statistics. In spite of ranking higher than 43 other states on teacher education and student performance criteria, that is ignored. Kansas is given a poor grade because of an NCTQ obsession: we do not let alternative teacher preparation run wild.
"Alternate Route" programs let people who aspire to be teachers gain training through routes other than standard university coursework. To make NCTQ happy, Kansas should throw open the doors to any mail-order outfit that claims to turn out teachers.
The darling of alternate routes is Teach for America (TFA). Established in 1990, TFA recruits high-achieving college graduates in a Peace-Corp fashion to teach for two years in low-income urban and rural schools. Similar to Peace Corps volunteers, these idealistic students serve only for two or three years and then move on to other vocations. Fewer than 15 percent remain in the high-need classrooms for five years!
There is no doubt that TFA recruits are both strong in academics and also motivated. But the fact that most move on to other fields after their two-year commitment, often into law or medicine, causes dramatic turnover in schools. And the total numbers, 7,300 currently nationwide and building to perhaps 13,000 in five years, are trivial.
Behind NCTQ’s bad attitude is their belief that Education School coursework is not needed. The TFA teachers only get five weeks of preparation to become teachers. And yes, it is difficult to defend Ed School programs when they change their philosophy from cooperative teaching one day to outcomes based education the next. But students in face-to-face campus programs at Kansas universities get a lot more useful training to become teachers that is not provided in TFA or alternate route programs.
NCTQ is also unhappy that Kansas limits alternate route programs to high-need secondary areas (there is a glut of elementary teachers, etc.).
The methods and the products of Kansas "alt route" programs vary widely. Face-to-face on-campus programs provide professors with important experience with students that helps them determine if they are teacher material. University programs serve a "gatekeeper" role that online alternate route programs cannot.
But some universities and colleges across Kansas are training alternate route teachers outside of their on-campus progams. Superintendents and principals who have hired "alt route" teachers know that while there are some that can fill the vacancy, there are more who are not performing well compared to regular route teachers.
In the current rush to expand enrollments and forfeit quality, some Kansas programs are now turning out "alt route" teachers using all-online correspondence courses. These programs cannot attest to the candidate teacher’s honesty, attitude, work ethic, or enthusiasm for teaching.
Following the "alt route" model, one state university trains regular elementary teachers completely online and has asked to train "alt route" teachers in fields where it does not even have campus programs—and therefore would have no faculty to provide supervision!
Much to their credit, both the University of Kansas and Kansas State University decided not to offer "alt route" teacher education programs. It is no more valid to train teachers online than it is to train medical doctors online. Indeed, the ongoing interpersonal skills needed in teaching are far greater than in medicine.
In a state that has lost over 1800 licensed positions in the last two years, we have new student teachers going jobless. It is time to shut down Kansas alternate route programs. Kansas does not need a national council to tell us what teacher quality is all about.