Revamping Teacher Prep or Professional Development for Elementary Teachers? Try this.

For more than a decade, the American Federation of Teachers has been a strong supporter of academic standards. But as the standards movement progressed from an idea at the state level to a reality in the classroom, everyone noticed some serious wrinkles in implementation. One common concern voiced by teachers, especially elementary grades teachers who are generalists, is that they often feel unprepared to teach some of the content set forth in their state's rigorous new standards. One reason for this is that teacher-training programs have typically provided an inadequate foundation in the academic content areas.

To help address this problem, the Core Knowledge Foundation developed 18 courses for future K-6 teachers. The project is called "What Elementary Teachers Need to Know," and the full syllabus for each course is available for free. Just go to and click on "Resources." The 18 courses cover biology, earth science, physics, chemistry, math, U.S. history, world history, geography, art history, music, composition and grammar, British and world literature, American literature, children's literature, and teaching reading. While these courses were mainly developed as a basis for colleges to revamp their teacher preparation programs, teachers, schools, and districts are welcome to use the materials for professional development.

Attrition, Not Recruitment, Is Root of Teacher Shortage

The teacher shortage has been national news for years. Until recently, says the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), the conventional wisdom held that the shortage was largely due to increased enrollments, smaller class sizes, or a wave of retirements. The natural focus for a solution was on how better to recruit new, well-qualified, teachers. But, says NCTAF's new report, the bigger cause is that teachers—especially new teachers—choose to leave the profession. After just three years, about one-third of new teachers leave; after just five years, nearly half leave.

Why? Teachers leave the classroom before retirement for a variety of reasons, including family or personal reasons and to pursue other jobs. But dissatisfaction is a big reason—and one that can be addressed by policy.

According to a study by Richard Ingersoll (which is discussed in NCTAF's report), fully 25 percent of all teachers (including those in private schools) and 19 percent of teachers in urban, high-poverty, public schools report that they left teaching because of job dissatisfaction. The table below shows the five most frequently given reasons for leaving among teachers from all schools and teachers from urban, high-poverty, public schools. Clearly, lack of student motivation and discipline, poor salary, and inadequate administrative support are critical issues.

Percentages of Teachers Reporting Various Reasons for Leaving
Due to Dissatisfaction (Top Five Reasons)

All schools
Poor salary 45
Lack of student motivation 38
Inadequate administrative support 30
Student discipline problems 30
Inadequate time to prepare 23

Urban, high-poverty, public schools
Lack of student motivation 50
Poor salary 46
Student discipline problems 27
Unsafe environment 26
Poor opportunity for professional development 24


NCTAF's report, titled "No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America's Children," is available online at Ingersoll's study, titled "Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An organizational Analysis," is in the Fall 2001 issue of the American Educational Research Journal.

High Standards, More Accountability, High Marks from the Public

Drawing on more than 25 of its surveys [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"wysiwyg","fid":"962","attributes":{"alt":"Better Marks from Employers and Prefessors","height":"532","width":"261","style":"float: right; height: 532px; width: 261px;","class":"media-image media-element file-wysiwyg"},"link_text":null}]]conducted over the past 10 years, Public Agenda recently released "Where We Are Now: Twelve Things You Need to Know About Public Opinion and Public Schools." While the polls indicate many concerns—particularly about the lack of student discipline and parental involvement—they also document decreases in social promotion, increases in summer school attendance, and improved attitudes towards public schools. Public Agenda ties these improvements directly to the standards movement and the strong support it enjoys among educators and the public. Indeed, just one to two percent of teachers, professors, parents, and employers favor halting the standards movement and returning things to the way they were.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"wysiwyg","fid":"963","attributes":{"alt":"Social Promotion Is Declining","height":"345","width":"250","style":"float: right; height: 345px; width: 250px;","class":"media-image media-element file-wysiwyg"},"link_text":null}]]

American Educator, Summer 2003