Teacher Preparation: A Very Important but Neglected Factor in Basic Education

From a previous post in this blog, "Attracting Bright Teachers", the following observations have been highlighted:

In the Philippines, the names of those who have passed the most recent Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) have been recently released. The passing rate for this year is 28% for elementary teachers and 40% for high school teachers. This is a bit better than the 2010 results in which 85% of elementary teachers and 77% of high school teachers failed. Still, the passing rates are alarming. The teacher shortage in the Philippines is critical and in places where good teachers are needed most, the predicament is worse. Browsing through the list of schools from which the test takers graduated reveals quite disturbing numbers (The following are for elementary school teachers):
  • Agusan del Sur College had 2 out of 12 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 13 out of 53 passed)
  • Central Negros College had 1 out of 7 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 22 out of 146 passed)
  • Lake Lanao College, Inc. had 1 out of 62 first time test-takers passed (for its repeaters, only 2 out of 95 passed)
  • Marawi Capitol Foundation College had 2 out of 41 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 9 out of 139 passed)
  • Marawi Islamic College had 3 out of 35 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 4 out of 36 passed)
  • Mindanao Autonomous College, Inc. had 1 out of 15 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 4 out of 26 passed)
  • Mindanao State University - Tawi-Tawi had 8 out of 55 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 17 out of 202 passed)
  • Pacasium College had 7 out of 104 first time-test takers passed (for its repeaters, only 15 out of 335 passed)
And there are many more examples that may give someone the impression that this licensure exam is a lottery and not an exam testing the skills of teaching school graduates. The passing rates of graduates from these teaching schools are very low. These are not, unfortunately, exceptions. The national averages of 28% for elementary teachers and 40% for high school teachers are equally bad. While the country embarks on an expensive K to 12 reform, designing a new curriculum, adding years to basic education, and experimenting with the medium of instruction, it seems to be neglecting a major factor in quality basic education: Teacher Preparation. This is one of the reasons why problems currently plaguing basic education originate from problems in higher education. Before a government can tackle a curriculum, it is necessary to have the workforce that is able to deliver. Before a government can even begin thinking about evaluations and tying these to bonuses, it is important that the teachers have received adequate training to perform their job. The Philippines cannot currently afford to hire teachers from abroad, thus, most teachers are coming from the colleges and universities in the country. These higher institutions of learning should be made responsible for the education and training they have promised. Without even going into moral grounds, these institutions, from a business point of view, are not even delivering the goods, yet year after year, these schools have been producing graduates who cannot even pass even with repeated tries a simple licensure exam. Realizing that there are two problems in basic education that maybe working against each other, high student:teacher ratio and ineffective teaching, requires correct prioritization. Pupils are more likely to learn in a classroom of 60 students taught by an effective teacher than in two classrooms of 30 students each, but both taught by two incompetent teachers. Quality trumps quantity.

Quality in teacher preparation starts with respectable admission requirements. Entry to a teaching program should not be a last resort for students who aspire for a college education. The teaching profession must be selective. It must attract the best among high school graduates and not cater to high school graduates who cannot qualify for other college majors. Future teachers cannot be viewed as mere sources of tuition income for schools. There must be minimum qualifications required. This is just the entry point. The program must provide both academic and clinical training for these students. Mastery in the subjects to be taught must be required as well as practical training in real classrooms. Information regarding institutions whose graduates perform miserably in licensure exams must be at least made known to the public so that prospective students are made aware of how useless these schools are. 

For two years, 2011 and 2012, there is a research and policy group, National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), that has closely examined teacher preparation programs in the United States. Their research evaluated teaching schools and found that attention is urgently needed in the following areas:

Figure captured from http://www.nctq.org/stpy11/reports/stpy12_national_report.pdf

NCTQ graded all the states according to the quality of teacher preparation programs and most, as shown in the figure below, are below satisfactory. In this figure, red is "poor", yellow is "so-so" and green is "good".

Table captured from http://www.nctq.org/stpy11/reports/stpy12_national_report.pdf

It is a sea of "red" across the states and the average grade is a "D". NCTQ in the US is trying to wake up education policy makers in the US because the above results maybe of a surprise. For the Philippines, however, a study like this is probably not necessary. The country must wake up to reality and begin addressing problems in basic education head on and not waste time, manpower and money on reforms that will only fail if the problem of teacher preparation is not addressed first.