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Should more Ph.D.'s try their hand at teaching school?

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

Although market forces may dissuade Ph.D.'s from pursuing or procuring employment as school teachers, voices are calling for more people with a Ph.D. to teach in elementary and secondary schools.

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Typically less than half of Ph.D. recipients earn tenure-track faculty positions at universities. But despite the droves of Ph.D.'s who necessarily seek employment outside academia, data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates less than 1 percent of elementary and secondary teachers in America hold a Ph.D.

That disparity is the launching point for a new article on The Atlantic’s website by education reporter and former political science professor Laura McKenna with the headline, “Why Aren't More Ph.D.'s Teaching in Public Schools?”

“Earlier this year USA Today wrote that there are twice as many people trained to be elementary school teachers than available positions,” McKenna reported. “Despite this surplus of teachers, though, individuals with years of graduate school education and years of college classroom experience should be snapped up by public schools. They have far more classroom experience and deeper knowledge of their content than most graduates from education programs.”

To substantiate the viability of her position, McKenna referenced a new program at Stanford in which the university will fully fund the cost of its humanities Ph.D. recipients taking the additional classes needed to obtain licensure as a high school teacher.

Sarah M. Zerwin, a high school teacher with a Ph.D., blogged in 2012 about how her education makes her a better teacher: “The dissertation experience and my committee taught me how to write about my classroom with rigor. The researcher stance allows me to see things going on in my classroom I never noticed before. All the theory I’ve met through the doctoral experience has helped me to better articulate what’s going on in my classroom. And most importantly, I’m uniquely positioned to work on issues in education from the inside. …

“I know that I am a far better teacher now after the experience of getting my doctorate and studying my own teaching for my dissertation. I’ve also been able to contribute in significant ways for my school, district and state, ways that would not have been possible before all I got out of my experience in graduate school.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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