Originally created 04/29/01

Bold new teaching plan

There are many reasons why public school students don't learn as well as they should, but one of the principle ones is that all too often they are being taught by teachers who don't know their subject. This is especially true in math and science - of which there's an acute shortage of teachers.

For instance, in Georgia more than half of high school science teachers haven't even minored, much less majored, in the subject they teach.

But the teacher shortage isn't just in math and science; it's across the board. The teaching profession simply doesn't provide enough pay, benefits or public respect to attract the best and brightest young people.

In later years however, many successful professionals - engineers, mathematicians, scientists, military, etc. - after they've built up a financial cushion, like the notion of making a mid-career switch into teaching. They certainly have knowledge enough of the subject matter; the problem is the education establishment makes them jump through hoops for two years to get a teaching certificate.

This is why it's very good news, indeed, that Gov. Roy Barnes prodded the agency that certifies teachers into fast-tracking the certification process. Teach for Georgia, getting under way this summer at teaching academies in Augusta and other major Georgia cities, will offer a free four-week crash program to professionals willing to become teachers. They could be in classrooms next fall.

A handful of other states are trying this bold experiment. If it succeeds, it could alleviate the acute shortage in math and science teachers. Imagine - students learning from persons who are actually knowledgeable and experienced in their fields.

To be sure, there are critics. Barnett Berry, spokesman for a national commission on teaching, says teachers need to know a lot more than just the content of their material to be effective. They need to have student management skills - how to teach, to control their classrooms, understand their students, and legal issues. These are learned by majoring in education to earn a teacher certificate.

But this is why after the four-week crash course the new teachers will be put in a mentoring program for two years after which they will be required to obtain permanent certification. Instead of theorizing about teaching in a university ivory tower, they'll be earning teaching certificates via on-the-job training. What's wrong with that?

The main issue is whether change is better than the status quo. That's a no-brainer. If the status quo weren't failing, there'd be no need for change. It's hard to see how educated, skilled professionals won't be a big improvement over plugging the teacher shortage with long term substitutes, many of whom don't even have college degrees.


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