Get Smart Fast, vol. 17

The New Yoker‘s Emma Green digs into the problems with teacher licensure exams and the controversy surrounding the ways they disproportionately block educators of color from entering the profession.

It’s a vicious cycle: Black and Latino students are more likely to attend failing schools, where research shows they’re more likely to be placed with teachers who are uncertified or still in training. Some of these kids will grow up to want to be teachers, but they may have trouble passing the tests they need to enter the profession. That will mean fewer Black and Latino teachers in classrooms. Research strongly suggests that when Black students, in particular, learn from teachers who look like them, they do better in school, take more advanced courses, and are more likely to graduate from high school and college.

One alternative on offer, allowing teacher preparation programs to certify their own graduates’ readiness, creates a different problem. Are colleges of education likely to label their own graduates as unprepared for the classroom?

The real issue may be more fundamental. Green writes: “Teachers are not garbagemen or accountants, charged with discrete, concrete duties. Their job is much broader, and more subtle: to fill students’ minds and equip them to venture out into the world.”

Why it matters: Education, the complex human endeavor that it is, continually bedevils top-down quality control and gatekeeping. This is one argument to create fewer barriers to entry and let families decide for themselves who is a quality educator.

Key Findings

Private school choice programs and charter schools both appear to drive better outcomes in public education as a whole when they grow and mature.

There may be a tradeoff between quality and quantity in charter school expansion.

Giving parents more information about school quality can boost property values in affluent communities and appears to have a bigger impact in those communities than in areas with lower household incomes.

More schools than ever are offering computer science, but gender gaps in enrollment remain.

Guidance counselors can have a huge impact on educational attainment, especially for students from lower-income families. But the day-to-day realities of school bureaucracy often prevent them from building close relationships with students or providing in-depth postsecondary counseling.

One example of why good guidance matters: Students who barely make the cut to transfer into four-year colleges often wind up worse off financially.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)