Principals say lack of teaching skills and strategies a bigger problem than lack of content knowledge

iStock_000021923625XSmallLack of expertise in teaching strategies is a bigger impediment to effective teaching than lack of content expertise, according to a survey of 242 principals at both low- and high-performing schools in Kentucky.

Bruce Torff, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Hofstra University, writes that the findings fly in the face of an “increasingly visible group who argue that the biggest problem facing lowperforming schools is the large number of teachers with deficiencies in content knowledge.” The study raises questions about current strategies to allow those without teaching certifications or education degrees to teach in the classroom based on the strength of their content knowledge.

Classroom management skills lacking

This survey of principals finds that the most common causes of teacher ineffectiveness were deficiencies in classroom management skills, ability to establish rapport with students, and lesson-implementation skills. 

Principals were asked to rate “how frequently, in their experience, teacher ineffectiveness was caused by five different factors: 1) deficiencies in content knowledge; 2) deficiencies in lesson planning skills; 3) deficiencies in lesson implementation skills; 4) deficiencies in ability to establish rapport with students; and 5) deficiencies in classroom management skills”.

Schools were identified as low- or high-performing based on a department of education website which identifies certain schools as “high-needs.”

The only difference noted between principals’ responses from low- and high-performing schools was in lesson-planning skills. Lack of these skills was rated as a somewhat bigger problem at low-performing schools.

Torff acknowledges that the lack of expertise in teaching could be interpreted as a sign of failure in teacher preparation. He suggests that the problem just may be that the skills taught in the teacher programs may be difficult to master in the time provided.

Some 300 surveys were mailed to principals in low-and high-performing districts. The survey was completed and returned by 242 principals (81%), with a 75% response rate from low-performing schools and an 87% rate from high-performing schools.

“Getting It Wrong on Threats to Teacher Quality” Phi Delta Kappan, December 2005, Volume 87, Number 4, pp. 302-305.

Published in ERN January 2006 Volume 19 Number 1

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