Not much smarter than the dumbest students they will teach, it seems. But the exact answer will depend on the “research” read by those few who still read. If this National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) publication is accorded the status of research, they may accept one of its many internal (and misleading) conclusions: “…there is mixed evidence on the number or type of courses a teacher takes and his or her performance in the classroom” (p. 75).
Its authors are suggesting that we really don’t know if teaching ability depends on the kinds of courses and how many of them a teacher takes, so they have no clear advice to give on whether we would have better elementary school teachers if they took any or more academic coursework in the subjects they taught.
Actually, the NCEE assertion was poorly stated, and the evidence isn’t mixed. What is mixed are the kinds of studies that were combined for an analysis addressing the wrong question. Evidence will be unclear if not misleading if all studies of K-12 teachers’ academic background are put into one basket to analyze, whether the teachers taught elementary or high school, and if one talks about the relationship of background courses to teaching skills, not to student achievement.
It has long been obvious that one can’t teach what one doesn’t know. That is why teacher licensing began many decades ago as an effort to ensure that prospective teachers understood the subjects they were going to be legally licensed to teach. Education schools quickly objected that licensure test scores weren’t related to teaching ability. Quite right. They didn’t correlate because licensure tests of subject knowledge weren’t designed to predict teaching skill. They came into being to assess whether the test-taker had the subject area knowledge needed for teaching the range of students at the grade levels specified by the license (see Ann Jarvella Wilson’s thesis-based paper, ED 262 049, on the history of teacher licensure tests).
That didn’t stop education school faculty from criticizing teacher licensure tests of subject area knowledge on spurious grounds. Unfortunately, irrelevant criticism did change the tests; they were watered down in content demand, and came to feature pedagogical items, especially at the elementary level. However, the public was simply told that licensure tests didn’t predict teachers’ teaching skills and were thus useless. The public wasn’t told that these tests had a different How Dumb Do We Want Prospective Teachers To Be? | Truth in American Education: