Vermont raising standards for primary school teachers
"The big push first and foremost is for alignment with the Common Core" state standards for what children are expected to learn at various grade levels, said Mary Beth McNulty, coordinator of professional standards at the state Agency of Education.
A group comprising teachers, principals, superintendents and representatives of teacher training programs met for two days recently to delve into the revision process.
Marta Cambra, director of educator quality at the Agency of Education, said the new materials would be incorporated into the continuing professional training all Vermont licensed teachers are required to get. "They're lifelong learners," she said.
Teachers are required to renew their licenses every seven years and complete 135 hours of professional training during each seven-year period, including 45 in their teaching specialty, Cambra said.
McNulty said a significant part of the focus in the new standards would be on making sure educators are prepared to teach children strong math and science skills. She also said the new teacher standards would call for an emphasis on integrating various subjects.
She said elementary school teachers need to implement a math curriculum that is "meant to be deeper, more focused content." Too often before, she said, the math content imparted to elementary school students was "a mile wide and an inch deep."
Over time, teachers will be expected to bolster their content knowledge and teaching techniques, McNulty said.
The emphasis on math and science comes at a time when educators at all levels are being called on to improve the training in those fields being given to future workers.
Last year, officials at the University of Vermont called for a new emphasis on the so-called STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Gov. Peter Shumlin said again this week that Vermont employers are eager to hire technically skilled workers and have often had trouble filling jobs calling for those skills.
Now those heightened expectations are trickling down through the elementary school level.
As the state has moved to adopt more rigorous standards for students, a new question has popped up, McNulty said: "Wait a minute - what do teachers need to know?"
The team working to write the new standards is expected to present a draft of the results this fall to the Vermont Standards Board for Professional Educators.
Implementing new standards will take time, McNulty said, and part of the work will involve making sure they are incorporated into the state's 14 teacher training programs, including at the Vermont state colleges, she said.
A spokesman for the Vermont National Education Association chapter said the state's largest teachers' union supports the process.
"Every year, the Agency (of Education) tries to ensure that our licensing and endorsement process match changes in state law and state policy," spokesman Darren Allen said. "As long as teachers' input is sought and acted upon, this process can be useful."