Arizona is not doing enough to improve the quality of teachers in the states’ public schools, according to a national report.
Only Alaska ranked lower than Arizona, which received a D-minus in efforts to improve teacher quality in the 2004 Quality Counts report by the trade magazine Education Week.
But state officials and East Valley educators say the bad grade is not a true reflection of the quality of Arizona’s teachers or the state’s efforts to improve.
"It’s not wholesale condemnation of the teachers’ ability to teach," said Penny Kotterman, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. "It certainly doesn’t mean we have a bunch of teachers with D-minuses."
The annual Quality Counts report, released Wednesday, ranks the states according to standards and accountability, school climate, resources and efforts to improve teacher quality.
Arizona also received a Dminus in teacher quality last year. Since then, states — as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law — have been beefing up teacher qualification rules to ensure classrooms have "highly qualified" teachers.
"Our grade indicates we don’t have as strong a definition (of ‘highly qualified’) as other states," Kotterman said.
Among other things, the report criticizes Arizona for not requiring all middle school teachers to pass subjectknowledge tests, and for failing to fund mentoring programs for new teachers and professional development for all teachers.
But many school districts, especially in the East Valley, have found ways to fund and provide these programs themselves.
Andrew Szczepaniak, coordinator for the Beginning Educator Support Team program in the Gilbert Unified School District, said the program, in its fifth year, provides a mentor for novice teachers, along with monthly seminars, and regular visits to the new teachers’ classrooms.
"Mentors are someone who the new teachers can feel comfortable talking to about problems and frustrations," said Tamara Hines, a seventhgrade language arts teacher at Mesquite Junior High School.
The Scottsdale Unified School District provides its teachers with similar support. Alicia Majercin, a third-grade teacher at Navajo Elementary School, said the Quality Counts report fails to take those efforts, as well as teachers’ own efforts, into account.
Majercin, a 10-year teacher at the school, has paid almost $7,000 into her continued education. She also attends free in-service training provided during half days or after school by the district.
Joe O’Reilly, spokesman for the Mesa Unified School District, said the national report grades states — not school districts. Like Gilbert and Scottsdale, Mesa also provides professional development and training for its teachers.
Tuesday, Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, announced that this year his administration will work on alternative ways for people to become teachers and a statewide teacher mentoring program.
Horne also plans to to urge the Arizona Board of Education to shift prerequisites for taking the certification test away from theory courses to those that emphasize practical skills teachers use in the classroom.
The report criticized Arizona for failing to hold teacher preparation institutions accountable for not identifying low-performing programs or by publishing teacher-testing pass rates of graduates. Horne said Arizona received an extension to report that information to the federal government by this spring.
Gene Garcia, dean of the College of Education at Arizona State University, said the report criticized Arizona, in part, because some data about the state’s teachers was unavailable.
"It’s sort of like you didn’t turn in your paper," Garcia said. "You may have written it, but you didn’t turn it in, so they can’t grade you."