Q: Is the White House Push for Alternative Teacher Certification Good for Students? Yes: It Helps Qualified People Become Teachers without the Expense and Delay of the Traditional Process

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Byline: Laurie Morrow and Edward Morrow, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

Suppose you are an engineer who has been pink-slipped by your Silicon Valley high-tech firm. Furthermore, suppose that you have a mathematics degree and an interest in teaching. And finally, suppose that there's a shortage of math teachers. The solution to this particular equation would seem to be that you become a math teacher. If you put down this answer in life's exam book, however, you will flunk the course at least if Big Education is doing the grading.

Notorious for ferociously defending the public-school monopoly by opposing school vouchers, Big Education the schools of education, the education bureaucrats and, especially, the gargantuan National Education Association (NEA) also fanatically opposes permitting qualified people to become teachers without passing down Big Education's assembly line, lest its domination of education be weakened.

The Bush administration eyes alternative certification differently. The academic performance of American children has been getting lousier and lousier when compared with previous generations or the children of other nations even less-developed nations. President George W. Bush campaigned on a promise to do something about this. Unlike many politicians who have made similar promises, he has followed through after being elected. In 2001, with bipartisan support, the No Child Left Behind Act was passed and signed by Bush. One of its reforms is support for alternative certification, with the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (American Board) singled out as an approved provider.

The American Board immediately was targeted for a campaign of disinformation by Big Education. In an amazing case of the pot calling the kettle black, Big Ed charged that the American Board wanted to eliminate other routes to certification. This isn't the case. The American Board is striving to offer an additional route that requires rigorous knowledge of the subject to be taught. The American Board also promotes teaching methods that are empirical and based on science rather than on guesswork. It further believes that the evaluation of a teacher's performance should include an assessment of the progress made by the teacher's students.

People outside the academic world wrongly assume that teachers are evaluated, promoted and paid according to how much they know about their subject and how well they transfer this knowledge to their students. In some schools this may be the case. The norm, however, is to advance teachers according to the number of years they've spent on the job with virtually no effort to identify good teaching. It would be convenient and comforting if seniority always produced better educators, but this is an unproven assumption. Some of our best teachers are new teachers who haven't been frustrated by years of enduring Big Education's dispiriting bureaucracy and lack of support for educators who actually try to educate. Some of our worst teachers are those who have been ground down by Big Education's rigidity and self-serving preference for presenting the appearance of education over its actuality. Big Education exacerbates the situation by not removing or improving teachers who can't teach. The result is that our schools have more than a few burned-out, bitter, bored or incompetent teachers marking time until retirement.

Advancement through seniority and the protection of incompetence are old union principles; Big Education's biggest component is the NEA, a trade union. Such policies might be tolerable in a factory where union demands must fit market realities, but we need a better paradigm for our children. The American Board has set out to improve this situation by developing new means for credentialing qualified teachers and new ways for principals and parents to identify the best teachers.

Who will be interested in American Board certification? …