One important area of concern that received little attention during this year’s monumental presidential election was education. Other than a brief nod during one debate — during which both candidates represented cursory and almost identical positions — education and the looming future of the No Child Left Behind Act was indeed left behind.
Currently, understanding the future direction of public education in the United States revolves around President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The improvements that Duncan is planning stem from a proposed $140 billion stimulus (sound familiar?), a large portion of which is intended to help states maintain and create teaching jobs and other positions in schools. Duncan plans to venture out on a listening tour across the county to hear firsthand what people in local places and spaces think.
On this tour, I hope Duncan hears from current college students who are intending to major in education. If he does, he will get a glimpse of some major problems that must be addressed during his tenure. One of these is the incongruency among states’ certification requirements and tests. He will hear about states such New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia that either adhere to different passing scores on certification exams, often change their passing scores, or use different exams altogether.
Hopefully, Duncan will hear that confusion is the least important result of these policies. These incongruencies create more obstacles for talented, new teachers who desire to leave their certifying states and teach in high need, urban areas in neighboring states. Like all bad policies, these incongruencies ultimately harm groups who need help the most: children in high need urban and rural schools.
I also hope that Duncan will see that some states such as Pennsylvania are transitioning into bizarre certification models — based upon no clear research base — that will make it absolutely miserable for college students to major in education. For starters, such models mandate a cemented course sequence, leave no room for electives and attempt to dictate the qualifications for faculty employment in teacher education programs. Without question, such models will decrease the number of gifted college students applying to and completing the major.
Some might suggest that any pressure put on states from the federal department of education is both undesirable and unconstitutional. My response would be that in the last 50 years, the federal government has increasingly stepped in and steered states straight when they have been off course.
Look no further than Supreme Court cases that not only declared racial segregation illegal but later outlined other measures for desegregation and related penalties. Today, strong-arm federal influence is happening on the daily through the No Child Left Behind Act. All of this means that Arne Duncan should and will have a say in teacher education at the state level, and I hope he hears from students in those programs as he makes decisions that will shape the next generation of educators.
Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.