It’s the Tests, Zitbrains!

Minority Groups Remain Outnumbered at Teaching Programs, Study Reports

According to a study being released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents colleges and universities with teacher certification programs, 82 percent of candidates who received bachelor’s degrees in education in 2009-10 and 2010-11 were white.
Even in programs that award teaching certificates to candidates who do not obtain full education degrees, 76 percent of the students are white.

Dave Barry‘s parody of the Tobacco Institute’s research on the relationship between cigarettes and cancer:

FIRST SCIENTIST: Well, Ted, for the 13,758th consecutive experiment, all of the cigarette-smoking rats developed cancer! What do you make of it?


FIRST SCIENTIST: It`s a puzzle, all right! Hey, look at this: These rats have arranged their food pellets to form the words “CIGARETTES CAUSE CANCER, YOU ZITBRAINS.“ What could this possibly mean?

SECOND SCIENTIST: I`m totally stumped, Bob! Back to Square 1.

THIRD SCIENTIST (entering the room): Hey, can you two guys lend me a hand? I need to screw in a light bulb.

….and for, god, can it possibly be 25 years? this little passage has remained my gold standard for “f**ing duh”, regardless of whether or not cigarettes cause cancer.

The reporter, Motoko Rich, obediently regurgitates the happy talk explanations:

“We’re finding that college-bound minority students have so many career options,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the association. “We have to develop some specific recruitment strategies to attract our share of those students into those teacher education programs.”

Right. Sure. Here’s the unemployment rate for college graduates age 21-24, sorted by race:

Does this graph demonstrate an environment in which black college graduates have so many options that they’d turn down a teaching job?

Of course, Motoko Rich doesn’t question this assertion, and moves on. Perhaps she shares the same biases as the experts she quotes. After all, she reported on the Mumford ring several times, which was all black teachers engaging in Praxis fraud, so wouldn’t it be logical to wonder, just six weeks later, if perhaps the test those black teachers were cheating on might have something to do with the lack? Maybe? But maybe not, if you think it’s all a great conspiracy.

There’s tons of information out there. Praxis owner, ETS, has researched at great length the lack of minority teachers. Of course, it hides the research under misleading titles like “Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity:
Targeting Support and Intervention for Teacher Licensure Candidates
” and “Performance and Passing Rate Differences of African American and White Prospective Teachers on Praxis Examinations. Here’s some useful data :

(Notice that the whites in the lowest category tie or outscore the blacks in the highest category–and so much for the theory that the strongest blacks aren’t becoming teachers)

And I’ll toss in some California data on Hispanic pass rates (Praxis doesn’t have enough Hispanic data yet):

Or Rich could have read the report she was summarizing, and looked at finding #9 on teacher diversity, which gives a shout out to the MISTER Program at Clemson, which reaches out to black males specifically.

Rich could have discovered that the program wisely spends lots of money (much of it given by BMW) on Praxis preparation. And even with that Praxis preparation, 20% of the Mister candidates drop out because they can’t pass the Praxis.

Or she could have read this narrative on another Mister program, which talks about the bi-weekly Praxis preparation the candidates received, and then, when it was really time to study:

Simultaneously, as recruitment and interviewing efforts were concluded, the enrolled Call Me MISTER Scholars were being prepared to take the Praxis I in December. This preparation took place with a series of eight-hour workshops conducted by Mr. Jean and rigid Praxis I study schedules, mandated to follow. The students recruited from the summer of 2008 took the Praxis I Reading Section which resulted in a fifty-percent pass rate, with the remainder of students failing to pass by a combined total twenty-five points.

So with lots of practice, the candidates achieved a 50% pass rate—which is an improvement.

Incidentally, alternative teacher credential programs have a higher percentage of URMs, although I’ve never seen any study that breaks this down by type. I suspect that the programs that produce more URM teachers provide specific Praxis support. The ETS report I cite above mentions that historically black colleges provide Praxis coaching as part of the teaching program. Public universities generally require passing Praxis scores before candidates enter the program, a development that began in the late 90s to game a certain requirement and I can never remember what it is, only finding it by accident. Arggh. If someone knows what I’m talking about, put it in comments. In any event, alternative teaching programs that don’t require Praxis passage before entering the program and provide Praxis coaching will probably accept more URMs.

Teacher certification tests have gotten much, much harder for elementary school teachers, the primary source of URM teachers, since 2002 and No Child Left Behind, and the original certification tests (Praxis I and California’s CBEST) pre-2001, have sufficiently dismal URM pass rates without the added difficulty. In California, for example, elementary school teachers simply had to pass the CBEST before 2002. Now they have to pass the Multiple Subjects CSET as well.

So if I’m right, and blacks and Hispanic would be teachers are falling short because of the certification tests, then coaching and removing the certification test passing requirement might be a good plan? Maybe?

But no, to most reporters, the Clarence Mumford case is as unrelated to the problem of missing minority teachers as a generous immigration policy is to the lousy employment opportunities for high school dropouts. Oh, wait.

So at the same time we see these sincere pieces on the dearth of black and Hispanic teachers, CAEP, the ed school accrediting organization, proposes requiring SAT/ACT/GRE scores in the top third. Does Mokoto wonder if such requirements may drive down the supply of black and Hispanic teachers even further, given that only 6% of blacks and 10% of Hispanics are in the top third of SAT scores? Does she wonder why the Mumford scandal overwhelmingly involved teachers, not teacher candidates, many of whom became teachers before the higher standards kicked in, and why so many black teachers found it necessary to pay for passage? Does she even mention certification tests?

Of course not, because Motoko’s a moron. No, I’m kidding. I just love the alliterative value of those double m’s. What she is, however, is a person who isn’t even coming close to addressing the actual reasons there aren’t a lot of black or Hispanic teachers.

Remember remember that teacher certification scores show no at a most generous reading, a weak relationship to student outcomes, and that the most optimistic results comparing teacher content knowledge to student outcomes reveal no impact on reading scores and a tiny improvement in results when comparing the top 5% of teachers to the bottom 2%.

Reformers will ignore this, because it’s politically important to bash teachers, a predominantly white, female group, for low ability, the better to blame them for “failing schools”, and politically impossible to bash blacks and Hispanics for low ability. Progressives will fail to point out reality to refute reformers, because it’s politically useful to blame poverty and, again, politically impossible to blame blacks and Hispanics for low ability. And so here we are, once again discussing a report that doesn’t address a root cause for missing “minority” teachers.

Note on 4/12/15: I edited this slightly because some readers think I’m frustrated, instead of mildly sarcastic. And the title’s an homage, dammit.

About educationrealist

17 responses to “It’s the Tests, Zitbrains!

  • Jim

    Unfortunately for teachers this will probably get worse. Somebody has to be the scapegoat and teachers are the obvious target. The failure of left-wing utopian schemes unleashes a consuming rage.

  • Malcolm

    Excellent analysis as usual but I have to disagree with your conclusion: minorities can’t pass the Praxis test (at high percentages) therefore eliminate the test! I would expect that logic from Al Sharpton, perhaps, but not here. Although I guess you’ve crunched the numbers and found that content knowledge doesn’t affect student learning, I think on principle we should agree that content knowledge is an important requirement for teachers; and standardized tests are the only reliable gatekeepers (which is why the numbers don’t lie).

    • educationrealist

      If you read some of my earlier posts you’ll see I link to research showing that at *best*, scores on credential tests are marginally linked to outcome; a RAND report shows none.

      I am not in favor of doing away with the credential tests. I oppose making them harder. I’ve taken the high school level credential tests in three subjects, they are adequately difficult (about the level of AP tests). I think we should openly acknowledge the problem with URMs and credential tests, rather than ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist. I think they should be given more coaching. And at the elementary level, where we have made the tests much harder in the past decade, I think we should do more investigation as to where the cutoff for demonstrated content knowledge should lie. I think it may be a bit high, given that race trumps credential score for blacks.

      I do agree that setting GPA for teachers as a gatekeeper is a ludicrous idea.

      • Black_Rose

        Thanks for you reply…

        The AP tests do seem to be moderately “g-loaded” and therefore requires some abstract reasoning that requires the application of knowledge rather than the mere regurgitation of knowledge. This would hamper the performance of the median URM (for some perverted reason, I like the term “NAM” better) who appear to have a deficit in “g” as evidenced by their standardized test performance on various psychometric instruments. It would seem difficult to improve performance once a certain threshold of content knowledge has been acquired, since after that threshold, the test now tests “g”. It would seem that AP-like tests are satisfactory to ensure that high school teachers are competent and knowledgeable in their respective intellectual domains, and any demands (from edu-reformers) to increase their competence are based on ignorance or unrealistic expectations.

        I looked at the Praxis I math and reading questions from the ETS website; they seem easier than the “easy” SAT questions.

      • educationrealist

        Praxis I is the elementary school test. Praxis II is the high school test. Although my state has a different test.

      • Black_Rose

        It still means that it is unlikely for the MISTER participants would pass the Praxis II tests, which are presumably more g-loaded than the Praxis I tests.

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