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We must prepare teachers to prepare our kids [Commentary]

America is facing three pivotal points in its history: a workforce vacated by Baby Boomer retirements, a lack of teachers to prepare youth for college and give them the skills required for new and global economies, and a swiftly changing racial demographic (becoming "majority-minority" before the end of this decade).

How we navigate these issues is critical. They impact whether we as a state will be able to meet our leadership and workforce needs and whether we will have teachers with the skills and cultural understanding of the communities they serve, which include a growing population of children of color and those living in under-resourced areas.

In order to create better educational outcomes — whether the result be higher education or alternative certificate programs — we need more effective strategies in teacher readiness and preparation, teacher stability in low-resourced community schools and teacher recruitment and evaluation.

We cannot continue to accept the status-quo of giving teachers a "pass" in their first year of teaching — especially in our low-resourced communities — when in fact they should be terminated. We need to toughen the definition of proficiency before granting teachers an almost guaranteed job for life.

Teacher Readiness and Preparation: With our society increasingly moving toward a 21st Century STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) economy, all teachers need to have specialized knowledge in STEM-related curriculum in order to adequately prepare youth as they mature toward college. STEM curriculum must be taught at the earliest school levels by teachers who can successfully "translate" the curriculum.

Teachers also need to be attuned to the other factors at home and in the classroom that greatly impact learning, be they a lack of resources, family trauma, poverty or a daily battle of surviving foster care. All of these conditions impact learning, and teachers must assess their own competencies and effectiveness in teaching within these student landscapes.

Nationally, 84 percent of teachers are white and female while public schools have racially re-segregated. Disproportionately, in all 24 Maryland school systems, African American students had higher rates of out-of-school suspensions or expulsions than did Latino or white students. Maryland — 45 percent "minority" as of the 2010 Census — is projected to become a "majority- minority" state within the next decade. It is essential to teacher stability and retention that their readiness and preparation programs include the skills needed to successfully teach in racial, cultural and resource-lacking environments.

Teacher Stability in Low-Resourced Community Schools: Roughly 1.5 million students are taught by a novice teacher each year, a number that has been increasing steadily for 20 years, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Schools with high poverty rates have lower teacher retention (45 percent). Such low teacher retention rates in low-opportunity communities further robs students of steady instruction and opportunities to build established relationships and mentorships that could help guide them to college attainment.

Teacher Recruitment and Evaluation: Requirements to enter teacher education programs need to be more stringent (these programs, in general, have some of the lowest requirements of any major). Graduates of these programs should be required to demonstrate comprehensive skill proficiency, such as teaching sample lessons in their subject areas before obtaining employment.

Teacher education programs should be graded on a strict number of outcomes. Those institutions providing low performing graduates and/or receiving low grades should either strengthen their curricula or be removed from the recruitment lists until they show evidence of improvement. School systems need to do their part by strengthening the student teaching experience and building partnerships that bring students into the classroom much earlier, modernizing their recruitment processes, and becoming more market-driven.

Taking this path might increase the difficulty of getting into schools of education and teacher education programs. It may mean recruiting out of state, ramping up successful alternative certification programs, and offering new incentive packages. It will also bring us closer to putting an excellent teacher in every classroom.

Maryland's commitment to and support of teacher readiness/selection, preparation and retention is central to creating future leaders and a high-quality workforce and expanding the economic vibrancy of Maryland.

Addressing these program and policy issues are investments in the future: our children's and our own.

Sheldon Caplis is co-chair of Associated Black Charities' Public Policy Advisory Committee on Higher Education. His email is Sheldon.Caplis@gmail.com. Diane Bell McKoy is President/CEO of Associated Black Charities and a former Baltimore City Public Schools Board Commissioner. Her email is dmckoy@abc-md.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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