Teacher Certification: A Short-Cut for Determining Teacher QualityPosted: May 16, 2015
The Ohio legislature is considering S.B.3, which includes provisions to exempt certain high-performing school districts from teacher certification requirements. Do we want that flavor of local control to be given to some districts, but not others? In other words, do we want some school districts to be able to hire teachers who are not certified? What education policy road do you prefer to travel?
I agree that government entities, including school districts, need a method of insuring that teachers are prepared to teach. Certification is that method of choice in nearly all parts of the United States, and in many other countries of the world. Certification provides a clear yes/no test to determine who is qualified to teach. The cost of certification, and hence the cost of determining who is qualified to teach, typically falls on the teaching candidate, not on the school district or other government entity.
If school districts and governments had more money, they might be able to cover the costs of finding good teachers in more expensive, more nuanced ways. Wealthy school districts might do what wealthy private schools already do: conduct interviews and background checks on a number of candidates after reviewing dozens of resumes, fly a few teaching candidates to the school for a day or two of more interviews, watch the teaching candidates teach a sample lesson or two, and have a committee conduct all those interviews, host all those visiting teacher candidates, watch them teach their sample lessons, and then decide which teachers to hire.
Most public school districts and governments are unable to afford the time and money that wealthy private schools pay to determine the quality of teaching candidates. Instead, most public schools and governments use certification as a proxy for teaching quality. Certification tells the qualification status of an individual teacher on the day certification was acquired, and tells whether the teacher has complied with any legally-required post-certification requirements, such as continuing education.
I have never been certified, but have a long history of teaching over four decades—public, private, independent, boarding, kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, college, graduate school, rural, suburban, urban, international, single-sex, religious, English, ESL, algebra, business law, health care law, television production, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, Connecticut, China, England. Sometimes I feel like the Forest Gump of the teaching world, as I’ve found myself in an almost fictional array of teaching situations. I have appreciated my students, my colleagues, and my administrators in every teaching position I have held.
During the past decade, I spent six years teaching in wealthy private schools in the New York and London metro areas. I enjoyed high salaries at those schools—salaries far larger than those offered by most public schools in the United States. Before hiring me, those schools screened me extensively at their expense. I am grateful for those teaching experiences.
I have also taught in two public school districts, but only when the districts could find no other teachers to fill the positions. Both positions were with children from low income families, and in both cases, school officials recruited me for the job. I found those teaching experiences rewarding and I found the students inspiring—I had my own kindergarten class one spring while in law school at night, and I briefly taught algebra at a school for at-risk high schoolers one spring while awaiting entry into my Ph.D. program the next fall. I am grateful for those teaching experiences, too.
I find it ironic that wealthy schools with children of rich and famous parents chose me to teach the children, but I am not allowed to teach in public schools except when no other teachers are available and willing to take the job. I accept the irony as the price of public education, where certification stands as the best available proxy for teacher effectiveness. I wish the world were more perfect; I wish schools had unlimited money to make better determinations of who is best qualified to teach the children in a particular school.
Absent unlimited money, current teacher certification laws provide a reasonable, defensible, and relatively inexpensive method for screening teachers. Let’s be aware, however, of the hidden costs of the teacher certification screening method: when wealthy parents prefer their children to be taught by teachers screened by other, more expensive and more nuanced methods, the wealthy parents place their children in private schools. Each time a child leaves the public school system, the public school system becomes a little less public.
My question remains: Do we want some school districts to be able to hire teachers who are not certified?
I welcome your comments, corrections, and suggestions. Thank you.
Note: I wrote my 2004 dissertation on alternative teacher certification policies. The title of the dissertation: Teachers Union Influence on Alternative Teacher Certification Policies: An Event History Diffusion Analysis.