Q. If you talk to teachers
"off the record," they will say their teaching certificates aren't worth the
paper they're printed on. They also say that competency or licensing exams are
easy, a lot of fairly weak teachers are getting that national certification
credential, and sometimes getting a master's degree in education is
counter-productive because you start using all kinds of "theories" that don't
work, instead of effective classroom practices. Can this be? Can the whole
system that the public thinks is ensuring teacher quality actually be a farce?
It's not fair to say that. Very little of value
operates in the market today without some sort of stamp of approval. Few would
quibble with these basic requirements for a competent teacher: intellectual
ability, formal education, and on-the-job experience. They all have to be
measured somehow. But what is at issue is how those are measured, and why the
one item of quality control that the public wants measured - results - is NOT a
part of the process.
Teacher quality is extremely important.
According to the federally-funded What
Works Clearinghouse, teacher quality gets better results in student
achievement than the other two reform tools, additional funding (including
class size reductions, which are very costly) and different curriculum.
A teaching certificate is heavily slanted toward
a university-based education degree and continuing education credits. But what
does the research on teacher effectiveness
to high verbal ability is No. 1. As measured on exams such as the SAT, ACT and
GRE, a teacher's ability to read, write and speak effectively is a much more
reliable correlate to a successful teaching career than having an education
degree or a valid teaching certificate.
Second, the record shows that teacher induction programs with
mentoring and a reduced first-year teaching load are much more predictive of
teaching success than having a teaching degree - even a master's degree in
education - and a certificate.
The third factor is formal education.
There is solid evidence of a connection between
the verbal ability of the teacher and the achievement of that teacher's
students. But there is no solid evidence of a correlation between the presence
or absence of a teaching certificate, and student achievement.
It makes a lot of sense to scale down the
teacher certification process to background checks for safety concerns, to
verify qualifications to reduce fraud, and provide governmental accountability
to the public.
The study listed below concludes with this
warning: "Reduced to its essence, teacher certification is incapable of
providing any insight into an individual's ability, intellect, curiosity,
creativity, affinity for children, and instructional skills. So long as the
deficiencies in the research on teacher quality are ignored, misrepresented, or
debated, there are clear losers. They are the disadvantaged students who are
most dependent on the quality of their teachers and the opportunity provided by
a high quality public school education."
There are many other, newer measurements of
teacher quality, and we'll address them in a later column.
Homework: Download the well-documented 2001
study, "Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality," by Kate
Walsh, The Abell Foundation, www.abell.org