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Last Updated: 02/23/2018

 Article of Interest - Teacher Quality

Do Teachers Make the Grade? Educators Recommend Scrapping Teacher Tests
by Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer, Sunday, February 09, 2003
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A group of Pennsylvania's top education leaders will release a report next week calling for significant changes in state laws and school district practices to improve the quality of teachers in the state's public schools.

Among their recommendations: Get rid of the controversial tests that assess teachers' skills in basic math and reading, force school districts to come up with rigorous hiring policies that ensure the best teachers are being hired and raise the minimum pay for new teachers.

The committee, directed by the Harrisburg-based Education Policy and Leadership Center, will release its "Teacher Quality and Supply Project" recommendations Tuesday. The 27-member group was led by former Pittsburgh superintendent Helen S. Faison, now the director of the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute, based at Chatham College.

The report makes the "perhaps obvious conclusion that the ultimate key to student achievement is quality teaching," EPLC president and former state legislator Ronald R. Cowell said.

Even so, the quality of teachers in district schools has rarely been examined in Pennsylvania and is just beginning to be a popular research topic nationally, Cowell said.

There has been "an absence of attention" to the issue, he said. "But research is showing that good teaching is not just helpful, it is vital" to student learning.

The project, which included a survey of Pennsylvania's school superintendents and education deans at colleges and universities, was funded through EPLC's grants from The Grable Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Only about a quarter of the state's 500 superintendents and 93 deans responded to the questionnaire. That didn't particularly surprise Robert Feir, a senior fellow at EPLC who directed the survey.

"Quality has not been a topic of conversation," said Feir, a former school superintendent and former executive director of the Pennsylvania Business Education Partnership. The topic "obviously is potentially politically dangerous."

He noted that the state Board of Education had recently raised the bar for teachers by requiring, for instance, that aspiring teachers have at least a 3.0 grade point average before entering a teacher education program in Pennsylvania's colleges and universities. And the state now requires teachers to have 180 hours of continuing education every five years to keep their teaching licenses.

"It's easy for the state board to say you have to have a 3.0 GPA," he said. "But it's more difficult to define the other qualities for good teaching."

Teacher quality was the topic of a five-part Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series that ended Thursday. The discussion will be continued in a town meeting hosted by the Post-Gazette and presented by Duquesne Light Co. from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, at McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University.

The purpose of EPLC's teacher quality and supply project, Cowell said, was to change or enforce state polices "to promote the presence of a qualified teacher in every Pennsylvania K-12 classroom at all times."

While the state has some new regulations aimed at making teachers better, other states do more, the report notes.

For instance, Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that doesn't give financial support to teachers who want to become nationally certified. The state also doesn't help pay for "induction" programs for teachers new to the profession.

The committee recommended state funding for those programs. Other recommendations included:

Better evaluation of teachers. While the state recently updated its teacher evaluation forms, school districts aren't obligated to use them. In fact, they can create their own forms. The report calls for districts to use the state forms, or to create similar forms that are approved by the state, and also calls for the state to provide training to school administrators on how to use those evaluation forms.

Abolish the PDAP test for teachers. The state's Professional Development Assistance Program, a $1.5 million-per-year test to see if teachers can answer basic math and reading questions, has been criticized by teachers unions and some educators. The report recommends using the funds allocated to PDAP to instead pay for training administrators to use teacher evaluation forms.

More help for new teachers. The state-mandated induction programs for new teachers now cover only the teacher's first year. The report calls for legislators to extend that to two years.

Higher salaries for new teachers. State law sets the minimum teacher salary at $18,500 per year, a level that was established in 1988. That amount should be "considered for adjustment" by the state Legislature, the report recommends.

End pointless professional development programs. While state law mandates that teachers continue their education through these programs, "Anecdotal evidence suggests there is close to an 'anything goes' attitude in some districts," according to the report. District officials should be held to state policy that says professional development programs must be of high quality and address the needs of the school district.

Create hiring plans. Many school districts use a seat-of-the-pants approach to filling vacancies that sometimes leads to nepotism and other poor hiring practices. The committee recommends that the state withhold local funding if districts don't come up with hiring and recruitment plans "that commit them to actively seeking and supporting qualified teachers."

Other committee members included Linda Croushore, executive director of the Mon Valley Education Consortium; Jay Hertzog, dean of the College of Education at Slippery Rock University; John Tarka, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers; and Caroline Allen, an official with the Pennsylvania PTA.

The full EPLC report will be available Tuesday on the Education Policy and Leadership Center's Web site,

To register for the town meeting, "Do Teachers Make the Grade?," call 412-263-1541. The event is free.

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