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Teacher Certification

 

Q. Teachers say their certificates aren't worth the paper they're printed on, competency or licensing exams are so easy it's ridiculous, and the whole system that the public thinks is ensuring teacher quality is a farce. Is this true?

 

Few would quibble with these basic requirements for a competent teacher: intellectual ability, formal education, good communication skills, and on-the-job experience. But what is at issue is which of those is the most important.

 

A teaching certificate is heavily slanted toward a university-based education degree and continuing education credits. But what does the research on teacher effectiveness show?

 

It shows that formal education is a distant third in what makes a good teacher. Average to high verbal ability as measured on exams such as the SAT, ACT and GRE, is a much more reliable correlate to a successful teaching career than having an education degree or a valid teaching certificate.

 

Similarly, 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.

 

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, and provide governmental accountability to the public. Among the suggestions:

 

n       Do away with traditional teaching certificates, and limit the state's requirements for teachers to: 1) a bachelor's degree, and 2) a passing score on a teacher competency exam, making sure it reveals verbal ability, knowledge of effective reading instruction, and specialized content if the person is seeking to be a secondary teacher. Publish score averages.

 

n       "Devolve" to the school districts the responsibility for defining the credentials and qualifications for hiring and keeping teachers on staff.

 

n       Also "devolve" responsibility for teacher training, orientation and induction to the school districts.

 

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."

 

Homework: Download the well-documented 2001 study, "Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality," by Kate Walsh, The Abell Foundation, www.abell.org

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Teachers 08 2008

 

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