You Can’t Lower the Bar and Achieve Excellence

by Maddie Fennell, NSEA Executive Director

Last year Ted Kolderie, founding partner of Education Evolving, sent me a packet of materials summarizing a discussion that took place more than a quarter of a century ago about the need to transform the education profession.

Page after page of 30-year-old comments read like my current Twitter feed and Facebook posts.

“Teachers and school administrators feel they are being blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine concerning public schools. ...Teachers and school administrators read and are told that they are poorly prepared for whatever it is they are supposed to do and that as a group, they represent the lowest achieving group coming from colleges and universities.”

Today, everyone is all atwitter about the teacher shortage. Actually, there is no shortage of teachers. Plenty of people have teaching degrees. They just don’t want to teach. We’ve devolved the profession into something unpalatable; it’s like trying to serve a great steak on a dirty trash can lid!

Has any profession ever faced anything like this before?

“A father bemoans the profession his son is entering, declaring it unprofessional, devoid of science and a waste of time.”  What profession do you think he was talking about?

The quote was taken from The Social Transformation of American Medicine and the father was upset because his son wanted to become a doctor!

Back in the late 1800’s, medicine was not considered a true profession that had wide popularity (think leeches, blood-letting). In fact, medical schools were graduating doctors that were barely literate!

Then in 1910 came the Flexner report. It called on medical schools to have higher standards for admission and graduation, and to adhere to mainstream science in their protocols.  As a result about half of all medical schools were closed.

When they sought to raise the status of the medical profession, they RAISED the bar, they didn’t lower it.

How NOT to Build a Profession

I know we hear it a lot, but look at Finland. Teaching is a prestigious profession in that country, well compensated and with plenty of time during the work day for interaction among adults. Getting into Finnish schools of education is highly competitive!

The Nebraska legislature could learn from the medical profession and Finland.  Yet we now have several bills that would make it easier, not harder, to become a teacher or substitute teacher in Nebraska (LB568 and LB650). This is NOT how you build a profession!

We must be intentional about building a pipeline for educators that begins in high school and progresses through your teaching career.

Mentoring Offered

I am proud of the work that NSEA is doing with Educators Rising (formerly the Future Teachers Association) utilizing a grant from the NEA. Just this year our efforts have resulted in the organization of 13 new chapters across the state, many in high schools with significant minority populations. This year, 330 students and advisors attended the Educators Rising State Leadership Conference, up from 170 last year!

As those high school students move to college campuses, we are going to support them through SEAN – the Student Education Association of Nebraska – at 17 campuses across the state.  This year we have more than 1,425 future colleagues who have joined SEAN!

As they are hired, we reach out to new teachers to join our Association, offering them both formal and informal mentoring as they develop their skills and knowledge in our profession.

A Formidable Bar

That pipeline doesn’t expect less from future teachers; it sets a formidable bar for entry and exit of education programs through the Praxis One & Two tests.  Starting this spring, NSEA is assisting college students by offering Praxis Prep sessions and even individual tutoring through our SEAN chapters.  

NSEA is doing this work because we know you can’t lower the bar and achieve excellence. We are committed to preserving and even enhancing the teaching profession by attracting students into our profession and helping them succeed.




Praxis Has Staying Power!

Did you know students can take the Praxis One while they’re still in high school and bank their scores for 5 years?

The Praxis One allows entry into colleges of education in Nebraska. Learn more at:


Praxis, Educators Rising Targets of NEA Grant

More Nebraska students will soon stand a better chance of getting into teacher education programs at Nebraska colleges and universities.

A Great Public Schools Fund grant from NEA is assisting with a series of Praxis One readiness seminars at college campuses across the state. Tutoring for individual students is also available on an as-needed basis.

The Praxis test determines whether candidates for education programs can demonstrate “basic skills competency” in reading, writing and math. For a candidate to be admitted to a Nebraska teacher prep program, he or she must pass the Praxis basic skills tests.

Grant monies are also being used to organize new Educators Rising chapters across the state for high school students interested in learning more about the teaching profession. By March 15, new chapters had been formed at 13 high schools with efforts underway at another nine sites. For details about the grant, call NSEA at 1-800-742-0047.