Pass or Fail: Hiring Qualified Teachers to Reduce the Need for Pass-Fail Systems

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

When it comes to getting rid of our current pass-fail system, I have developed six strategies (click to see them all). Hiring qualified teachers who know how to reduce the retention and social promotion rates through pedagogy is one of those points.

Research continues to show that good teachers are the single most effective factor in student success. Unfortunately, not all teachers are adequately prepared to address the rising standards of education in the modern world. The problem lies not so much with the teachers themselves as it does with their lack of training and their lack of access to teaching resources. To avoid both retention and social promotion, teachers must be better prepared. Moreover, they must expect to continue to prepare themselves throughout their careers.

Because the hiring of quality teachers is the second step outlined in our program for change, it is particularly important that the time frame for educational transition be a prominent element of the reform process. On the surface, the hiring of “qualified” and “competent” teachers seems easy enough and should be something that schools are already doing. The problem is that the hiring – and retention – of teachers reflects the standards of a dysfunctional system. While it is probably too harsh to say that schools have no-one to blame but themselves for the teachers they now have, it is certainly true that the effectiveness of teachers in the U.S. public school system is unlikely to improve until hiring standards are revised to reflect the requirements of multiage classrooms, individual interventions, alternative assessment procedures, and other elements of individual-based education. Moreover, schools must be prepared to implement retraining programs for teachers who were selected on the basis of existing pass-fail, age-graded standards. It is not enough, or even fair, simply round up anyone suspected of incompetence.

It stands to reason that if students are changing, teachers need to change too. More specifically, the education that teachers receive needs to be modified to meet the needs of modern K–12 classrooms. There are policy and practice changes taking place all over the world – many driven by teachers – that address the cultural shifts in the classroom. Some of the more promising recent developments in the educational world include the following items:

Subject-specific recruiting by colleges and universities. The book Teaching 2030, written by 13 experts in K-12 classroom pedagogy, calls for education schools to stop admitting anyone so long as they have some education major. Instead, the experts suggest that colleges become more selective to meet the actual needs of today’s students. Young people who want to teach in high-demand subject areas like mathematics, bilingual education, the physical sciences and special education should be given a higher priority by admissions boards of teaching colleges. Such a needs-based philosophy addresses actual voids in the industry and produces teachers who are better equipped to meet students’ needs.

Virtual learning options. Although online college courses have been around for years, K-12 education has also begun to provide distance learning options for students in some areas. During the 2010-2011 school year, 1.8 million students in grades K-12 were enrolled in some distance learning program. That is up from just 50,000 in the 2000-2001 school year, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. This is a trend that teachers-to-be simply cannot ignore. Virtual learning is not reserved only for those who can afford it; 40 U.S. states have state-run online programs, and 30 of those states provide statewide, full-time K-12 schools online. The University of Central Florida is one of the only schools to offer a virtual-school emphasis for education majors that lets students apprentice with Florida Virtual School instructors.

Public education in America needs teachers who are better trained to meet the needs of specific student populations, who understand the necessary role of distance learning, and who are willing to speak up for making real change in the classroom. Without such teachers, it is unlikely that social promotion and retention can be replaced by individual-based learning.


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