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STEM teacher preparation

5/8/2014

While much discussion of Kansas legislative action on school funding has focused on issues of teacher tenure, another item needing attention is the added language regarding STEM Teaching licensure, coming from Section 7, which includes the following:

While much discussion of Kansas legislative action on school funding has focused on issues of teacher tenure, another item needing attention is the added language regarding STEM Teaching licensure, coming from Section 7, which includes the following:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an applicant shall not be required to complete a teacher preparation program prior to licensure as a teacher if ... the applicant has obtained at least a bachelor's degree in the subject matter area of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, finance or accounting."

Evidently, this Section 7 add-on would extend teaching licensure to individuals who have STEM-related backgrounds (science, technology, engineering, math) but no preparation or experience in teaching.

Such a proposal is problematic and dangerous to our quality of education in Kansas. We would not simply give a medical license to someone with a biology degree. We would expect a doctor or medical professional to have extensive preparation and training in the specific skills and principles of medicine, ethics and patient care. In the same way, we must hold our classroom teachers to high expectations of formal preparation and training in the pedagogical skills, professional responsibilities and psychological principles of learning and teaching.

Current teacher licensure requirements include extensive preparation and coursework in both content (e.g. science, math, etc.) and education (pedagogy, psychology and learning, methods, assessment, management, etc.). Extensive research throughout history has found both areas are necessary for effective teaching and successful student learning (e.g. Abell, 2007; Borrowman, 1956, 1965; Gage, 1972; Goodlad, 1990, 1994; Harper, 1939; Ingersoll, Merrill & May, 2012; National Research Council, 2007).

The Kansas State Department of Education requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of content coursework (e.g. science, math) for prospective teachers seeking licensure to teach a particular subject. In most cases, teacher preparation programs in universities and colleges require even more credit hours and coursework in content subjects. For example, Wichita State University requires 43 credit hours of chemistry and related science courses for the Chemistry Education (grades six to 12) licensure program. Students often are within a handful of classes from getting a second degree in straight chemistry content; in some instances, students complete degrees in both science education and science content. In other words, new teachers enter the classroom with more than sufficient preparation in their content field.

If concerns arise about producing enough teachers to fill high-needs classrooms (e.g. STEM areas), there are multiple endeavors here in the state of Kansas that recruit and prepare individuals to become effective educators.

* Wichita State University has one of the leading "alternative licensure" programs in the nation, called Transition to Teaching, in which individuals who already possess a content degree and work experience can be classroom teachers while completing education-related coursework (pedagogical methods, psychology, etc.).

* Pittsburg State University also has an alternative licensure option, in which individuals with a bachelor's degree in a content field can earn a master of arts in teaching along with their teaching license.

* Another alternative program is UKanTeach at the University of Kansas, in which individuals complete both a degree in science or math content and complete a modified teaching certificate program.

Kansas State University offers a graduate certificate program in which individuals already possessing a bachelor's degree in their content area can earn a teaching license in one year.

These are just some examples of the many options in Kansas for preparing teachers with both subject content and teaching skills.

We encourage Kansas leaders and citizens to thoroughly study this issue and seriously consider the ramifications of filling our schools with individuals who have no formal preparation in child psychology, adolescent development, teaching methods and strategies, foundations of education or professional ethics. Such a scenario is not in the best interest of our children and state.

Daniel Bergman is president of the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science.

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