Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Staffing Practices/Interchangeability
"If a teacher gets hit by a bus, can another smart and well-prepared teacher replace the first one and achieve similar learning outcomes with the students?" asks The Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) Group in a recent blog. At first glance, this question is startling. The depiction is harsh, but the point is clear: no one wants to be the kind of teacher who, for whatever reason, can be easily replaced. Likewise, a teacher is trained in his specific content area: not to be tossed from one subject to the next with very little consideration of his background.
Out-of-field teaching is a problem in the United States. Interchangeable teachers, who teach subjects they are not certified for, comprise about one fourth of the teachers in public middle and high schools across the United States ("One fourth of classes have out of field teachers"). Is the education system harming its students with under qualified teachers or is a certified teacher in one subject able to effectively teach a host of others?
Why Out-of-Field Teachers?
Schools want their students to succeed, so why then would they allow the use of out-of-field and uncertified teachers to continue? Whether they hold certification in a certain subject or not, some teachers simply excel. Their students thrive and the school sees no reason to replace them with a certified teacher. In other cases, it is more expensive to hire a teacher specifically for every subject in the school. For less money, a teacher certified in a science can also teach another. Though school systems are insisting that schools become more creative in hiring qualified teachers for quality learning, schools complain that teachers who are willing to work part-time is difficult and distance learning has not yet been proven effective (Chaika).
What The Statistics Show
|“||Unlike Canada and many European and Asian nations, the United States treats elementary and secondary school teaching as low-status work and teachers as semiskilled workers. Few would require cardiologists to deliver babies, real estate lawyers to defend criminal cases, chemical engineers to design bridges, or sociology professors to teach English.||”|
—Richard M. Ingersoll
So which teachers are teaching subjects outside of their certified areas? Schools in underprivileged areas, rural areas, and where minorities exceed fifty percent of the population have statistically the greatest number of out-of-field teachers ("One fourth of classes have out-of-field teachers). Science and math teachers are suffering the most in both the aforementioned schools and all other schools. Twenty-eight percent of all math teachers lack even an equivalent to a minor in math, while eighteen percent of science teachers are missing such preparation. In addition, science teachers are shuffled from subject to subject, regardless of certification, to make up for the critical shortage of science teachers (Chaika). Out-of-field teaching is not confined to only math and science, however. Nearly eighteen percent of social studies teachers and twenty-two percent of English teachers in high schools lack, at the very least, a minor in the subjects (Chaika).
However, holding a college degree in a particular subject is not the only factor that should be involved when accessing a teacher's quality. That is only the minimal requirement and does not insure that a person can actually teach the subject (Ingersoll). Taking classes on instruction and actual teaching certification should also be important factors as to whether a teacher can teach.
The Teachers' Opinions
There are many sides to the issue of out-of-field teachers, from the views of the students to the mandates set by the government. One of the most important opinions though, must come from the people who are put in the position to teach a subject that they are potentially not equipped to. Many schools look for teachers up until the very last second and, upon finding no one, do not cancel the class, but simply hand the subject over to another instructor. This person may not have any background in this subject and finds himself unprepared once school start. These teachers often use the textbook as a crutch. They will not be able to as easily or thoroughly teach the material or answer student questions because they do not have the preparation. Sometimes, a teacher may not even like the subject he is teaching (Chaika). If a teacher does not have a passion for his subject, how can he possibly instill a desire to learn the subject in his students?
Even when teachers do not mind their out-of-field assignment, there are a number of obstacles to overcome in order to effectively teach the subject. For instance, many schools will not pay for sending their teachers back to school to take classes. Therefore, if a teacher decides to go back to school, he is most likely to obtain an advanced degree to increase his earning potential (Chaika). In addition, school systems do not offer adequate support to out-of-field teachers. They do not provide additional material on the subject or allow teachers the time to learn the subject or how to teach it on their own. A teacher has been trained to teach his subject, not a subject randomly assigned to him. Therefore, in addition to obtaining knowledge about the new subject, he also must learn how to teach it (Ingersoll).
The Government Weighs In
The No Child Left Behind Act required all states to insure that their teachers were "highly qualified" in their respective subjects by the 2005-2006 school year. The U.S. Department of Education defines a "highly qualified" teacher to be one who earns a bachelor's degree, is certified in the state in which they teach, and prove that they know the subject. This would ultimately get rid of all out-of-field teachers. In 2004, responding to complaints from the states, it was modified to allow certain flexibilities. Rural and science teachers were given extra flexibility. Rural teachers were given three years to be certified in each additional subject they teach. Science teachers can now be certified in a "broad field" or in each individual area of science ("New No Child Left Behind Flexibility"). However, one in four schools failed to meet the NCLB standards by the 2005-2006 deadline. These schools face losing government aid. Additionally, schools receiving poverty funding from the government can potentially lose administrators and instructors who are removed by the federal government (Ohlemacher).
Now one returns to the scenario of the bus. In his blog, Steve Gilbert wonders whether it is "something to brag about" if all instructors are interchangeable ("Bus Test vs. Embarrassment Test"). If a school is able to pass the "bus test," does that make it successful in the eyes of the government or the students? Is it more important to have a teacher who can instill a passion for learning his subject in students or should students get the most basic, mediocre learning experience?
Very few states prohibit the use of out-of-field teaching, even after the No Child Left Behind Act—but Virginia is among them (Chaika). If school systems stop using out-of-field teachers and, instead, use teachers that are certified for the classes they teach and, in turn, have a passion for that subject, the passion for learning might be absorbed by their students.
Multiple Choice Questions
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Click to reveal sample responses.
- "Bus Test vs. Embarrassment Test." [Weblog Student Course Evaluations] 11 May 2006. The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group. 19 Sep 2007 http://bustestv.blogspot.com
- Chaika, Glori. "Out-of-Field Teachers: How Qualified is Your Child's Teacher?." Education World (2000) 21 Sep 2007 http://www.teaching-point.net/Exhibit%20A/How%20qualified%20is%20your%20child's%20teacher.pdf
- Ingersoll, Richard M. "Rejoinder: Misunderstanding the Problem of Out-of-Field Teaching." Education Researcher 30.1Jan/Feb 2001 21 Sep 2007 http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/results/results_fulltext_maincontentframe.jhtml;hwwilsonid=ABJP1QDNDWSIVQA3DIMCFF4ADUNGKIV0
- "New No Child Left Behind Flexibility: Highly Qualified Teachers." U.S. Department of Education. 24 Nov 2005. U.S. Department of Education. 21 Sep 2007 http://www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/teachers/hqtflexibility.html
- Ohlemacher, Stephen. "More than a quarter of nation's schools fail to meet law's requirements." Sign On San Diego. 29 Mar 2006. The Union-Tribune. 22 Sep 2007 http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/education/20060329-1129-nochildleftbehind.html
- "One fourth of classes have out-of-field teachers." School Board News 10 Sep 2002 21 Sep 2007 http://www.nsba.org/site/doc_sbn.asp?TRACKID=&DID=8216&CID=312