New state teacher certification mandates pose risks, says Interim President Riggs '77


An op-ed written by Gettysburg College Interim President Janet Morgan Riggs '77 appeared in Harrisburg's Patriot News on Dec. 14. The piece addressed concerns over new Pennsylvania teacher certification mandates. 


Since, several references have been made to Riggs' piece, including the Chambersburg Public Opinion and Messiah College History Prof. John Fea's blog

Piling it on prospective teachers; state's new education rules knock programs off course

When it comes to educating teachers, Pennsylvania's liberal arts colleges play a significant role.

Last year, 44 percent of those graduating in Pennsylvania with certification to teach were graduates of independent colleges. Our graduates are aggressively recruited, receive distinguished teaching awards and work in some of our most challenging under-resourced urban and rural schools. It's a role that we think is important for us to play.

However, we are finding that the latest change in the state Department of Education's teaching certification regulations will take many of us out of this role.

The department's recently approved Chapter 49.2 guidelines mandate changes that have the potential to reduce the number of students in teaching programs, particularly those in liberal arts colleges, at a time when the country faces teaching shortages due to the retirement of millions of baby boomers. In fact, we expect that many liberal arts colleges will be forced to eliminate their education programs all together.

The regulatory changes would require many liberal arts colleges to retool their education curriculum and dramatically increase the number of required education credit hours for students interested in becoming teachers.

Current certification regulations already place teaching preparation among the most demanding of our liberal arts programs.

In addition to satisfying the requirements of an academic major and a comprehensive program of courses across the natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, students currently complete a rigorous series of education courses and field experiences to earn teacher certification. We believe that this educational experience prepares students well for careers in teaching, and we are proud of our graduates' success in this field.

However, the new guidelines would require students to add two additional semesters to an already challenging four-year program.

The financial burden of an additional year to complete certification requirements could discourage many exceptional students from becoming teachers, particularly in these challenging economic times.

While we agree with the new guidelines' focus on teaching "diverse learners" and English as a second language, we believe there are several ways to incorporate the development of these skills into the existing education curriculum. We also believe that rigorous academic preparation, particularly the broad interdisciplinary approach at the heart of the liberal arts experience, provides a superb foundation for teaching.

To build a set of regulations that will effectively prevent students in liberal arts programs from pursuing teaching certification does not seem wise.

As the Governor's Commission on Training America's Teachers' Web site states: "The Pennsylvania Department of Education has a long, commendable history of supervising teacher certification in a way that allows many different styles of programs to coexist and to demonstrate their strengths in the marketplace. In an era of changing needs and increasing opportunities, this is a wonderful and strong base upon which to build."

We believe it is in the best interest of Pennsylvania's schools and K-12 students to safeguard this healthy diversity of teacher preparation programs. Requiring longer lists of courses is not necessarily the way to improve teacher preparation.

We should focus instead on ensuring that future teachers learn what they need to know to be competent, well-educated professionals.

Dr. Janet Morgan Riggs is the interim president of Gettysburg College and a professor of psychology.

Contact: Kendra Martin, director of media relations

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Sun, 14 Dec 2008

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