We need higher standards for entry into higher education (opinion) – Inside Higher Ed | Team Cansler

Every state in America has enacted laws that require a license or certificate to practice most professional trades. These areas include building and construction, law enforcement, medical offices, cosmetics, counseling, and teaching—well, not all teaching. Teaching licenses are only required for professionals in K-12 education, not college graduates. Why is that?

The fact is, teachers in our nation’s elementary and secondary schools are subject to higher standards for demonstrating competency in teaching practice than teachers in our nation’s colleges and universities. In the K-12 training, candidate teachers must complete a relevant post-secondary course and also pass the state-required certification and license examination for specialist knowledge and pedagogy.

Once candidates meet the requirements for completing the program, which is often the completion of an appropriate undergraduate preparatory program, they must demonstrate their subject knowledge and teaching practice by passing state-mandated standardized teacher preparation tests before they are eligible to become teachers to be state. These requirements for establishing the quality of instruction in the nation’s K-12 schools were first mandated by No Child Left Behind in 2002 and incorporated into the most recent Every Student Succeeds Act through reauthorizations of the Act.

In contrast, to teach in higher education, faculty members are only expected to meet the requirements for program completion, which is often simply completion of an appropriate graduate program. They don’t have to know how to teach the subject they graduated in or pass a test to measure their willingness to teach that subject. The problem with this is that pedagogical knowledge is not a function of professional expertise. Having acquired content knowledge in a certain discipline is not an indicator that a person is ready to teach this content. The problem with not knowing whether a prospective faculty member is ready to teach is compounded by the reality that there is an almost certain probability that the candidate has never been taught how to teach their coursework, an established challenge the academy .

Again, why is that? Well, generally, accrediting agencies drive the design of higher education programs, and these agencies are held accountable by the US Department of Education for their interpretation and administration of higher education law. This law does not require a level of instructional quality (just an expectation), therefore the Department of Education does not require it, therefore accrediting bodies do not require it, therefore the programs do not include it.

Is that an oversimplification? Maybe, but the reality is that prospective faculty members are not taught how to teach their coursework. They are in no way required to demonstrate proficiency in pedagogy, instructional design, or assessing student learning before being accepted to teach in colleges – whereas our K-12 teacher candidates must demonstrate such proficiency to be employable.

I doubt the discrepancy. Why would we need a professional license or certificate to practice in most other professional jobs, including teaching K-12, but not as part of the professorship? In fact, by today’s standards, the professors who train future teachers are qualified to teach future teachers, but not qualified to teach their future students.

The United States Department of Education requires only that accrediting agencies have established standards that include “clear expectations of the institution or program they accredit” in terms of faculty. And the description of the Department of Labour’s Careers Information Network for university teachers says: ‘Employees may need on-the-job training, but Most of these jobs require that the person already has the required skills, knowledge, work-related experience and/or training” (emphasis added).

This question of why we don’t require professors to teach comes at a time when enrollments at traditional colleges and universities have declined while enrollments for online programs and alternative educational options have increased. Sure, the pandemic-induced shift toward online and distance learning and life experiences has played its part. But the biggest competitive advantage colleges have over ed-tech companies and boutique online education providers is the expertise of their faculty and staff, both individually and collectively. To counter the trend of declining enrollment, college and university leaders must maximize their advantage by ensuring that the learning experiences – and outcomes – of all their students are led by people who deliver the highest quality of instruction.

The research is unequivocal: the biggest academically related factor in a student’s performance is the quality of instruction. To make the most of their greatest resource and strongest competitive advantage, college and university leaders need to develop better ways to ensure teaching quality in all contexts within their institutions. A solid first step is to ensure that faculty members are not only subject experts, but also trained teachers in their subject – ready to provide their students with engaging learning experiences from the very beginning of their careers, just as we do as K-12 educators.

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