Study finds teachers lack skills needed for high school reforms
The demands on 21st century high school teachers in California are changing dramatically.
The era of teaching a single subject in an isolated classroom is ending. Under ambitious high school reforms, teachers are being asked to lead interdisciplinary courses in small learning communities and career academies. They’re expected to inject real-world relevance into their courses, to individualize instruction in classes with a wide range of students, to require complex portfolios of their students’ work, include project-based learning and to do the jobs that counselors once did.
That’s a lot to ask, and, according to a study released today, many aren’t up to the challenges.
“Policymakers and educators at all levels will need to rethink the ways high school teachers are recruited, trained, and supported,” because they’re not acquiring the skills they need in their credentialing programs, and they’re not getting the professional development they need after they’re hired, concluded a study for the Santa Cruz-based Center for the Futue of Teaching and Learning.
In its annual report, The Status of the Teaching Profession, the center took a thorough look at the state of high schools. Researchers for SRI International in Menlo Park surveyed 234 principals and interviewed 95 teachers and others at 16 high schools undergoing various reforms.
Research found that many aren’t prepared for the transformations.
Principals reported that most teachers had good knowledge of their subjects. But only 45 percent reported that a substantial majority (defined as two-thirds or more) of their teachers could differentiate instruction for students with high levels and low levels of skills. Only 50 percent of principals said most of their teachers could integrate real-world applications into their lessons. And only 68 percent said most of their teachers had the interpersonal skills to relate to their students. Principals in high-poverty high schools reported lower numbers to the questions.
The report concluded that teacher training programs, with California State University ed schools offering the bulk of credentials, aren’t keeping up with the times – and are now facing substantial budget cuts that will compound the problem. It recommended that these institutions better prepare teachers for career academies and interdisciplinary settings. It cited the San Diego State, which last year began offering a multiple pathways approach, found in career academies, for candidates seeking a single-subject credential.
The report praised individual schools’ initiatives, such as requiring teacher candidates to give a sample lesson in front of other teachers, and bringing in experts in other professions to share their knowledge.
Other recommendations include:
- Targeting support to principals to help them improve their schools;
- Using federal Title I money to help teachers master subjects for which they’re not credentialed o teach and seeking other federal money (like Race to the Top, perhaps) to train 21st century high school teachers;
- Revising teacher evaluation forms to include data that reflect improved practices.
The center didn’t venture an opinion about the push by business leaders for alternative credentialing programs for science and math teachers – a reform generally opposed by the CSU.
It also didn’t deal with one of the biggest current barriers to high school reforms: a seniority system that has led to the layoffs of young, innovative teachers who would fit in best in a transformed high school.