According to Amanda Ripley’s article, “Higher Calling: To improve our schools, we need to make it harder to become a teacher,” some American universities are beginning to treat teacher preparation like that of training physicians, pharmacists, pilots, and other professions by increasing the rigor of teacher preparation and making it harder to become teachers. Maybe the education field is in its “Flexner era” similar to that of the medical field back in the early 1900s. I sure hope so.
Commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation, the Flexner Report was the hallmark of reform in American medical education. Calling for higher entrance requirements, highly skilled faculty, high quality training facilities, rigorous hands-on clinical training, and commitment to improving the field through research, it was Flexner’s report that led to the transformation of medical education and thus, the professionalization and prestige of the medical field.
According to Ripley’s article, there appears to be a similar sentiment regarding education. Some states, such as Rhode Island, will limit admission into its colleges of education to students that score in at least the top 50% of the national distribution on the SAT, ACT, or GRE, increasing that requirement to the top one-third by 2020.
Increasing entrance requirements is a good start. The adage “input equals output” isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s not only about the quality of the chef; the quality of ingredients is just as important. Thus, simply accepting high quality students is not enough. The education and training students receive should both reflect and foster the level of excellence expected of them. This includes examining the quality of faculty educating teachers-to-be, the rigor of classroom training, the levels of certification standards, and the quality of relationships and communication between universities and schools, particularly in leveraging the feedback loop between theory and practice.
So what does an increase in rigor and quality mean for teachers? Should their pay then correlate to the increase in rigor, training, expertise, skill, and – let’s not forget – tuition costs?
Increasing quality and rigor brings increased costs, which in turn will be passed along to students. According to the American Association of American Colleges, the median 4-year cost of attendance for 2014 class of medical students is approximately $287,000. Based on the 2013 class of medical students (public and private schools), the average amount of indebtedness was near $170,000. However, even the lowest paid physicians (general practitioners) make an average of $176,000 according to the 2014 Medscape Physician Compensation Report.
There are varying thoughts about the issue of teacher compensation. Moreover, recent research has shown little relationship between student achievement and teachers’ years of experience and advanced degrees. The shift now has been to base teacher compensation on student performance. However, do we base physician’s compensation based number of lives saved or lost or by how fast we recover from an illness? While I don’t have an answer to what constitutes a perfect teacher compensation model, the rate of return should be comparable to the increased investment – intellectual, monetary, and, possibly, time – in more rigorous teacher training.
Beliefs about teacher improvement aren’t new. Harold T. Schafer, a New Jersey superintendent, published an article in 1965 juxtaposing findings of the Flexner Report to education. In the article, he offers several recommendations, some of which parallel that mentioned in Ripley’s article, including increasing selection criteria and certification standards, strengthening pre-service training, and recognizing the financial costs associated with such. Referencing the positive influence professional associations and other regulatory groups have had on the standard medical training, Schafer also alluded to the need for increasing rigidity of accreditation standards of educational institutions, which could, consequently, result in a shift toward smaller numbers of training institutions but with a laser focus on rigor and quality.
Several decades later, the teaching profession has come full circle. Education was in a different place during Schafer’s time. Since then, the field has seen marked improvements. One hallmark of a good educator is characterized by a constant quest for learning through continuous growth and improvement, particularly in the face of change. Improving teacher quality will require a tremendous amount of change. However, prudent pruning of the status quo can lead to healthy, viable, and prolific growth of the education field.
Making it harder to become a teacher is a step in the right direction. Yet, elevating the teaching profession is a complicated equation with a complex set of variables, all of which must be considered.
Association of American Medical Colleges (2013, October). Medical Student Education: Debt, Costs, and Loan Repayment Fact Card. Retrieved from https://www.aamc.org/download/152968/data/debtfactcard.pdf
Duffy, Thomas P. (2011). The Flexner Report – 100 years later. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 84(3), 269-276. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3178858/
Kane, L. and Peckham, C. (2014, April 15). Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2014. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/compensation/2014/public/overview
Shafer, Harold T. (1965). What does the Flexner Report say to ASCD? Educational Leadership, 23(3), 235 – 238. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_196512_shafer.pdf