AFT - American Federation of Teachers

Shortcut Navigation:
Email ShareThis

AFT Resolutions



As we enter the twenty-first century, a variety of forces - calls for higher academic achievement for all children, demands for accountability of educational institutions and stakeholders, the recommendations of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, and new research findings demonstrating that teacher quality is the single most important school variable affecting student achievement - have focused public attention on teachers and the quality of instruction.

The urgency of recruiting and training quality teachers is underscored by demographics. Student enrollments are at an all-time high, at the same time that the teacher work force is aging, and large numbers of teachers are likely to retire in the next few years. Indeed, more than 220,000 new teachers must be hired nationwide each year in the foreseeable future, if the country is to meet the educational needs of an ever-burgeoning student population. These students, the most diverse ever in our nation's history, will be required to meet higher standards for student achievement than ever before. Schools in rural and urban settings struggle to hire qualified teachers to meet their needs, and even wealthier suburban schools have difficulty finding the science, mathematics and special education teachers they need. This burgeoning demand for new teachers and an increasing demand for high quality in the teacher workforce have put a spotlight on the preparation of teachers.

For more than half a century, researchers, policymakers and the education community have grappled with the problems that beset teacher recruitment and preparation - problems ranging from difficulty recruiting the ablest students to under-investment in teacher education, to lack of coordination between colleges of teacher education and the arts and sciences faculty, to inadequate pre-service time for teacher candidates to acquire the content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and clinical experience they need to be successful in the classroom. Despite these impediments, as well as constantly changing state requirements, education faculty at colleges and universities around the country have produced many thousands of capable teachers.

As the issue of teacher quality has attracted more attention, so, too, has it attracted various "solutions" for achieving that end. One thread of "reform," paradoxically, calls for weakening the professional schools that educate teachers through the deregulation or elimination of teacher training. Advocates of deregulation propose that federal funds set aside for training should be available to any program that trains teachers, not just schools of education, but also individual K-12 schools, private companies and non-profit groups should be eligible to use the funds for "on-the-job" training, or in other ways they deem worthy. A second approach to reform aims at improving, not eliminating, teacher education.

In our view, the best way to bring an adequate supply of well-trained teachers into the classroom is not by avoiding collegiate teacher education, but rather by strengthening it - by bringing higher quality, greater resources and much more coherence to the way higher education screens and prepares teacher candidates today - whether those candidates come through traditional four-year programs or alternative routes. Historically, that is the route other major professions have taken when the adequacy of their training programs was challenged. To that end, and in furtherance of the AFT's 1998 resolution on teacher quality, a task force of AFT K-12 and higher education leaders has spent more than a year conducting a study of issues related to teacher education.

The American Federation of Teachers believes we must go beyond the current contours of teacher education and strengthen teaching as a true profession. As former AFT president Albert Shanker (1996) observed:

To be considered a true profession, an occupation must have a distinct body of knowledge - acknowledged by practitioner and consumer alike - that undergirds the profession and forms the basis of delivering high-quality services to clients; define for itself the nature of training required of those who wish to enter the field; require rigorous training to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to practice the profession; control the standards for entry into the profession; … induct its members into the profession in a systematic and rigorous fashion; and have the respect of the larger society.

Finding of the K-16 Teacher Education Task Force

The preparation of teachers is routinely an undergraduate, four-year program of university courses that includes (1) course-taking in the liberal arts and sciences, (2) a major or minor in a liberal arts and sciences discipline and/or (3) teacher education, including a field experience in the schools. For candidates preparing to teach in elementary schools, knowledge of the subject matter is usually acquired through the initial liberal arts requirements. Candidates planning to teach in the high schools now typically major in the discipline they intend to teach. Programs vary regarding their expectations for candidates intending to teach in the middle grades. Some programs expect candidates to minor in two to four "core" subject areas (mathematics, science, history, English, the arts); others require a major in one discipline. In response to recommendations made by the Carnegie Forum and the Holmes Group, a number of teacher education programs have instituted a "fifth-year" model, expecting all candidates to complete a B.A. degree before progression into an intensive year of education courses and school-based clinical experiences.

In addition to the more traditional routes into teaching described above, since the late 1980s, states have been developing alternative routes for those individuals with college degrees who did not take the required education coursework but wish to teach. As of 1999, 40 states have alternatives to the traditional route into teaching. While alternative route teachers currently make up less than 5 percent of the current K-12 workforce, they represent a significantly larger percentage of the "new hires, never taught" population. The candidates for alternative certification tend to be older students (Institutions of Higher Education, 1999). They also appear to attract a larger percentage of men and minorities and more science and math majors than do traditional route programs (NCEI, 2000, NCES, 1997, Universal Almanac, 1996).

Feistritzer and Chester (2000) examined these alternative programs and found that they are highly variable in rigor and quality. Some programs require participants to have a baccalaureate degree and to pass licensing tests and screening interviews to enter the classroom. Others require just a baccalaureate degree, and still others in the face of shortages do not even require a college degree. Some are well-developed apprenticeships where alternative route candidates have an opportunity to acquire pedagogical content knowledge in structured programs while receiving on-the-job mentoring. Too often, however, little or no pedagogical training is provided, little or no mentoring support is made available. New, untrained "alternative route" teachers are given emergency licenses and left to sink or swim. Alternative certification programs must require teacher candidates to pass the necessary licensing tests, as well as provide serious pre-employment pedagogical training and intense supervision of initial teaching.

Entry Requirements to Teacher Education

In the traditional route, all students take liberal arts and science courses in their first two years of college. Many students take these courses at a community college and complete their studies at a four-year institution. The breadth and quality of this coursework is of crucial importance to prospective teachers, particularly for most elementary and many middle school teachers who receive a great deal of the content preparation in these required courses. In too many cases, however, the general liberal arts and sciences curriculum required for prospective teacher candidates in their first two years is neither sufficiently coherent nor sufficiently rigorous.

Students are generally admitted into the college's teacher education program at the end of the sophomore year. For many states and institutions of higher education, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standard defines the minimum requirement for entry into the teacher education program: basic literacy as demonstrated by a proficiency test and a 2.5 grade-point average in coursework.

Knowledge of Academic Discipline

Today, despite the need for greater subject matter knowledge on the part of all teachers, only 38 states now require an academic major or its equivalent for prospective secondary teachers; and less than a dozen states require such a major for elementary school teachers. As a result, the vast majority of elementary teachers major in education rather than a discipline and about 20 percent of those candidates preparing to teach at the high school level major in education.

Content of Pedagogical Coursework

A central component of virtually every teacher education program is coursework in pedagogy and effective methods of teaching. But, in the absence of an agreed-upon pedagogical core, the course content that teacher candidates receive at different colleges, and even from different instructors at the same college, can vary tremendously - not just in nuance, but in essential content regarding teaching and learning. There is, in short, no body of knowledge the profession has determined that all teacher candidates need to know. It is vital that we identify what science tells us about how people learn in order to improve the teacher education curriculum.

Pre-Service Student Teaching

Although the content, quality and duration of pre-service student teaching varies greatly, almost without exception, every teacher preparation program requires, at a minimum, a 10-week student-teaching experience of all elementary, middle and high school teacher candidates.

While some colleges and the education faculty have developed excellent clinical training programs, such programs are not widely available, and serve only a small percent of teacher candidates nationwide. The clinical experiences should be characterized by a careful choice of school sites, supervisory faculty and cooperating teachers, as well as continual interchange among the professionals around the goals of the experience and the standards that must be met by students, The reality, however, is that most student teaching experiences fall far short of what is needed. Indeed, it is not surprising to learn that:

  • The student teaching experience is too short to adequately prepare teacher candidates to assume full responsibility for a classroom.

  • Schools where student teachers are placed are often selected because of their proximity to the campus or to students' homes or their willingness to participate, not on their academic reputations;

  • The cooperating teachers who are responsible for mentoring the student teachers placed in their classrooms are frequently selected haphazardly by principals with little input from the university or the teachers in the schools regarding criteria;

  • Cooperating teachers receive few or no incentives for working with student teachers, and they are not trained adequately, nor supported, by the school or university;

  • Cooperating teachers' evaluations regarding the teacher candidate are often ignored or not requested;

  • The supervisory faculty, often retired teachers and principals who are responsible for overseeing the student teacher placements, have low standing at the university and are often selected as a result of their availability and willingness to accept these low-paid assignments rather than their excellence as teachers and mentors;

  • Supervisory faculty, like cooperating teachers, are often untrained and unsupported in their work with teacher candidates;

  • Frequently, there is far too little coordination among university faculty, clinical supervisors and cooperating teachers concerning standards of good teaching and the requirements of a rigorous clinical experience.

There is, in short, a pervasive disconnect among the professionals responsible for the clinical training of prospective teachers.

Exit Criteria

To the extent that institutional exit criteria exist, they tend to revolve around state licensure requirements. In most states, those requirements include the completion of an approved teacher education program with a grade-point average of at least 2.5, practice teaching in a school setting and passing some kind of standardized licensure test.

The current state licensure exam system poses several serious problems for those concerned about the quality of teachers entering the classroom:

  • First, the tests measure low-level knowledge and skills, not the candidate's command of college-level work.

  • Second, cut scores for these tests are often very low and, on occasion, are waived even at that low level.

  • Third, the diverse testing and coursework requirements for licensure across the states complicates the increasing mobility of teachers, making it difficult for prospective teachers to go where jobs are available. For example, high school English teachers trained in one state may find that they are not prepared to teach in an adjacent state because the testing or coursework requirements are different even though the job of "high school English teacher" may be the same in these different states.

  • Fourth, in the face of teacher shortages, states and districts waive the weak testing requirements currently in place.

Induction Programs for Beginning Teachers

Graduation from a teacher education program - whether four or five years - cannot be considered the end of training for teachers. The demands of the pre-college degree - acquiring subject matter knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and clinical training - do not allow sufficient time for teacher candidates to develop the skills and experiences necessary for completely independent practice in their initial teaching assignments, including the skills necessary to work effectively with paraprofessionals and other education support staff. Nonetheless, after graduation most new teachers are assigned a class, often with the most hard-to-reach students, and left to "sink or swim" on their own. By contrast, other countries with high-achieving school systems induct new teachers into the profession through clinical, real-world training processes - following rigorous undergraduate academic preparation - by which inductees develop and perfect their teaching skills under the mentorship of more experienced and skilled colleagues.

A number of school districts, in some cases working in collaboration with university teacher education programs, are instituting internship programs for novice teachers. These programs ensure that new teachers have both a mentor who will assist them as they confront the hard realities of the classroom and a reduced teaching load. The reduced load allows time for professional development activities that include observing master teachers, interacting with colleagues about teaching and learning, and responding to the guidance offered by mentors who review their practice and recommend strategies to improve the quality of their classroom performance. Such programs have been instituted in Toledo, Berea, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, Ohio; New York City and Rochester, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Poway, California. Research indicates higher levels of teacher retention in these instances.

In Sum

While some education programs at colleges across the nation have taken significant and creative steps to reshape curricula and raise standards, most programs are still beset by problems, including:

  • difficulty in recruiting the ablest students prompted in large part by low pay, poor working conditions, and lack of respect for the profession, as well as the low esteem in which teacher education courses are held at many universities;

  • inadequate standards for entering and exiting teacher education programs;

  • under-investment by the university in teacher education;

  • poor coordination between teacher education and liberal arts faculty;

  • little consensus about what should comprise the pedagogy curriculum;

  • difficulty, within a four-year program, in finding enough time and the proper balance of coursework in liberal arts, pedagogy and a major in an academic discipline;

  • lack of standards for clinical programs resulting in haphazard recruitment and training of supervising personnel, along with inadequate collaboration among the professionals concerning program goals, student oversight and assessment; and

  • clinical experiences that often are too brief and do not require students to take sufficient responsibility for instruction.

Furthermore, alternative certification routes vary from full-fledged education programs with stringent entry criteria to non-existent entry criteria and unsupervised emergency placements. The teaching experiences for alternative route candidates often give these teachers too much responsibility without sufficient training and mentoring.

Given these findings, the American Federation of Teachers calls for an urgent national commitment to bring higher quality, greater resources and more coherence to the way higher education screens and prepares teacher education candidates. To that end, we make the following recommendations:

RESOLVED, that the AFT call on education and liberal arts and sciences faculty to establish core courses in the liberal arts and sciences that college freshmen and sophomores are required to take in order to be admitted into a teacher education program and on the presidents to support the faculty in this endeavor. These courses must provide broad exposure and a sound foundation in the range of subjects and information relevant to K-12 student standards; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call for raising entrance standards for teacher education programs by requiring a 2.75 grade-point average at the end of the sophomore year as an initial requirement, to be phased up to a 3.0 grade-point average; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon leaders in the profession to develop a national voluntary test - not imposed by the federal government - to be used by states or higher education institutions to select candidates who wish to enter teacher education. This test would require students to demonstrate college-level proficiency in the core subject areas of mathematics, science, English language arts and history/geography-social studies; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education to articulate higher standards of subject-matter knowledge and academic performance required of students entering and graduating from teacher education, particularly as they relate to state standards for K-12 students. In addition, NCATE needs to spell out quality standards for student teaching and other clinical experiences that include criteria for who may be a cooperating teacher or supervisor, and what role the university plays in training and coordinating such personnel; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon all institutions of higher education to require an academic major in addition to pedagogical studies and general liberal arts coursework for all teacher candidates - elementary, middle and high school. For vocational or career and technical teachers, these majors must be grounded in sound academic preparation combined with high occupational and technical knowledge as well as effective pedagogical skills. The major must be sufficiently rigorous to enable teachers to deeply understand their content. It must also be comprehensive enough to prepare prospective teachers to help their students meet the new, more demanding K-12 education standards; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call for congressional funding to enable the teaching profession under the auspices of a respected body of scholars and educators - such as the National Academy of Sciences, the learned societies or a specially assembled body - to reach agreement on, and recommend that colleges adopt, a rigorous core curriculum in pedagogy, based on the best research into how students learn and on those content-specific teaching methods shown to be effective with students; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call for strengthening the clinical experience of traditional teacher preparation programs by building on successful models. These models include the following characteristics:

  • The cooperating classroom teachers with whom prospective teachers are placed are chosen on the basis of excellence determined by a peer review process, adequately trained to assume this responsibility, and well rewarded for undertaking it;
  • Education faculty are freed to spend more time with their students at their school placement sites and receive professional advancement and other rewards for doing so;
  • Supervisory faculty members - the faculty members who serve as the prospective teachers' principal link between the college campus and the K-12 classroom - are chosen on the basis of excellence in teaching and adult learning and adequately compensated for their work;
  • These three sets of professionals work together from the beginning to the end of the clinical experience to develop explicit goals for the process and assess the performance of prospective teachers; and

RESOLVED, that teacher preparation should be organized, at a minimum, as a five-year process. This may take the form of a five-year university program, during which the students have opportunities early in pre-service training to observe and work in schools and in the fifth year, prior to graduation, receive an intensive clinical training internship - conducted in close collaboration with the public schools - for which they are compensated. If the university program is only four years, it is essential that the school district institute, at a minimum, a year-long internship and mentoring program for new teachers; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT believes the clinical experience can best be provided in public schools where the faculty embraces the mission of preparing new teachers, has allocated resources to that mission and has developed a professional culture that supports it; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call on the teaching profession under the auspices of a respected body of scholars and educators - such as the National Academy of Sciences, the learned societies, or a specially assembled body - to develop challenging subject matter content and pedagogy (as defined by the aforementioned panel), national examinations - not imposed by the federal government - to be taken by all prospective teachers prior to licensure in their teaching field. Current state teacher testing requirements vary greatly and often are characterized by low-level content and low cut-off scores. The national examinations would aim for a level of rigor that is consistent with what entry-level teachers in other high-performing countries are expected to know; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call for an induction program for all beginning teachers regardless of whether they have completed a four- or a five-year program. The AFT will work with school administrators and, through collective bargaining agreements, implement induction programs for novice teachers that include: a quality selection process for identifying and training mentor teachers, adequate training and compensation for those mentors, and time for them to genuinely teach and support beginning teachers; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call for alternative routes to teaching that, at a minimum, require all students to pass state teacher testing exams in the appropriate content areas and that offer pedagogical coursework, monitor alternative-candidate performance in the classroom, and provide necessary services to support the development of effective teaching skills and strategies; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon university presidents to make the preparation of high-quality teachers a top institutional priority. This should be reflected in funding for teacher education commensurate with other professional training, in greater support for clinical experience programs, in strengthening relationships between the arts and sciences and education faculty, and in realigning the faculty reward structure to encourage greater involvement of faculty with their schools and community; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call on K-12 local unions to assume greater responsibility for the quality of the clinical experience by working with the district and the higher education institutions to identify and train members working in K-12 classrooms with the expertise to serve as cooperating teachers; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call on higher education unions to use their good offices to strengthen teacher education, to promote greater communication and coordination between teacher education and other faculty, to ensure contractually that the institutional reward system favors clinical work in the schools, and to encourage the hiring of excellent clinical faculty and cooperating teachers; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon state legislatures, Congress and foundations to appropriate the funds necessary to put into place the reforms mentioned above so as to enable excellent teacher education to become the norm, not the exception.