La. education superintendent discusses teacher preparation on Capitol Hill

Louisiana’s education chief testified before a congressional committee on teacher preparation and retention issues Wednesday (July 17).

Some representatives in congress are concerned about the teacher turnover rate and some new teachers being ill-prepared for the classroom.

Superintendent John White of the Louisiana Department of Education was among several educators from different areas who addressed the House Committee on Education and Labor. Before fielding questions, White talked about teacher preparation concerns.

"We owe it to teachers to prepare them in a professional manner and to declare them effective before they take a full-time job in a classroom,” White said.

Rep. Gregorio Sablan, D-Mariana Islands suggested some teachers leave the profession because they have not been adequately prepared.

"It shows that teachers are pushed out of the profession because they’re not well enough prepared to begin with, because school systems do not support teachers as they should and because teachers are underpaid,” Sablan said.

Rep. Rick Allen, a Georgia Republican agreed.

White testified that Louisiana surveyed public school teachers in 2014.

"More than 6,000 responded overwhelmingly saying that they were not fully prepared to teach in their first years in the classroom,” White said.

He said Louisiana responded to those complaints with new policy.

"In 2017, after years of hard work however, our state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education codified the ‘Believe and Prepare’ model into state regulation, requiring all aspiring teachers in Louisiana to experience a full-year residency under a state certified mentor,” White said.

Jim Randels, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, said teachers deserve more respect than they are getting.

"I think the requirement should be that you begin to really look at teachers as professionals and that you are trusting their judgment as professionals about the development of young people,” Randels said.

And, Randels said he thinks the heavy focus on standardized testing, like the LEAP exams, contribute to retention problems.

"When the test began, the primary measure, or the thing that everybody said what counts the most, then it became harder as teachers, and a more difficult task to really instill a level of learning in them, and a real humanistic and community based development in them, and I think you end up losing teachers and you end up having the problems in New Orleans we have with retention of teachers,” Randels said.

Allen said he thinks the federal government should have less say on what happens in the classroom.

“The federal government needs to get out of the classroom, needs to allow our teachers to do what they’re called to do, which is teach and not deal with all of this regulatory compliance requirements,” Allen said.

Members of Congress also discussed the difficulty schools have in attracting and retaining science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

White said the reality is, other industries are becoming more attractive to some.

"In my state, somebody can go work at Exxon-Mobil in Baton Rouge and work in East Asia and work in sub-Saharan Africa, and all do it for a salary that’s three times, just out of college, what a teacher would make,” White said.

By Sabrina Wilson

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