Superintendent candidates spar over teacher qualifications, reading instruction - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Superintendent candidates spar over teacher qualifications, reading instruction

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Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 7:32 pm | Updated: 11:23 pm, Fri Oct 1, 2010.

Public schools should be able to hire individuals with no specialized education training to teach in their classrooms, John Huppenthal said Wednesday.

"The tragic fact is they've now shown the college of education degree doesn't show higher academic gains when you compare them with long-term substitute teachers,'' said Huppenthal, the Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. "And that's a tragedy.''

Huppenthal, a state legislator since 1993, said the current requirement to have either a degree in education or some certification of training in how to teach is unnecessary.

"If somebody has a college degree, then the local school district should make that decision,'' he said, rather than having a statewide prohibition.

That sentiment drew derision from Democrat Penny Kotterman, a career teacher.

"If you're going to have a profession of teaching, much like any other profession, there have to be expectations and standards and criteria for getting into it,'' said Kotterman, the former president of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

She said that doesn't necessarily mean a bachelor's and master's degree in education, essentially what is required now, saying someone with a lifetime in a specialized field should be allowed into a classroom -- with preparation.

She said that doesn't necessarily have to mean courses on how to teach. Kotterman said it could include mentoring and internships with those already in the profession.

"But what I don't think we should do is open up the doors and say that anybody that wants to be a teacher for six months or six weeks can just walk into a classroom without any preparation or any support and do that job,'' she said.

She also disputed Huppenthal's claim that having an education degree makes no difference. Kotterman said other research she has seen shows a "tremendous impact on student achievement and on teacher quality.''

Huppenthal, however, isn't convinced -- at least not as it applies to the teaching programs at the state's three universities.

"Our colleges of education in Arizona, (I) severely criticize them for adequately preparing teachers to teach reading,'' he said. "We've seen the results in our stagnating reading scores in Arizona.''

He noted that the state school superintendent serves as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents which oversees the state's three universities. Huppenthal promised to use that position to "confront our colleges of education on this whole issue of preparing teachers.''

On that issue of reading, the pair disagreed about how public school students should be taught.

Huppenthal said schools need to scrap trying to teach students using a "whole language'' method. While that involves some phonics -- teaching youngsters to sound out words -- it also focuses on teaching pupils to recognize whole words.

He said research shows it doesn't work, yet it continues to be taught at colleges of education.

"And that is just a detestable thing,'' he said. "It is victimizing students across this nation as a concept.''

Huppenthal said what's needed is phonics combined with "phonemic awareness,'' teaching how sounds relate to written words.

Kotterman, who taught reading, said there is no one "right'' way to teach reading.

"You have to create a combination of helping kids understand phonemic parts of words and you have to help them understand words in context and in meaning,'' she said. Kotterman said her own two children went to schools where they taught whole language "and they're quite bright, graduated from great universities and did fine.''

The issues came up both during a televised debate Wednesday night on KAET-TV (Channel 8), the Phoenix PBS affiliate, and in interviews afterwards.

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