The Case against Teacher Certification

By Ballou, Dale; Podgursky, Michael | The Public Interest, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Case against Teacher Certification


Ballou, Dale, Podgursky, Michael, The Public Interest


The system by which the nation trains and licenses its public school teachers recently came under sharp attack from an organization called the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF). In its 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, the commission charged that public schools employ large numbers of "unqualified" teachers, largely as a result of inadequate and poorly enforced standards for teacher training and licensing. The report was greeted as a "scathing indictment" of the current system and was widely publicized by the media.

What is the NCTAF? Its name notwithstanding, the NCTAF holds no "commission" from any elected official. It is a private organization, funded by the Rockefeller and Garnegie Foundations. Although the NCTAF claims that its report is not the work of education insiders, the largest block of members comes from major education organizations and education schools, including the two major teacher unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Remarkably, for a body that claims to represent the public interest on issues of education policy, the commission also includes leaders of private organizations that have a direct and substantial financial stake in the adoption of the commission's recommendations, among them the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The NCTAF plan

The commission blames current conditions on state education departments and many teacher education programs:

Because most states do not require schools of education to be accredited, only about 500 of the nation's 1200 education schools have met common professional standards. States, meanwhile, routinely approve all of their teacher education programs, including those that lack qualified faculty and are out of touch with new knowledge about teaching.

As a remedy, the NCTAF offers a sweeping plan to "professionalize" teaching, shifting control of accreditation and certification from local school boards and state education agencies to private education organizations. The commission's recommendations do not specify the curriculum of teacher training programs or the content of licensing examinations. Rather, the NCTAF would empower groups of education professionals to set standards for how teachers will be trained, tested, hired, and promoted. It will be up to these professional organizations to determine the curricular reforms needed to upgrade the teacher work force.

A key element of the commission's program calls for all teacher education programs to meet "professional standards" or be closed. By this, the commission means obtaining accreditation from NCATE. While all education schools must currently meet the standards required for accreditation by their state department of education, most do not obtain, or even try to secure, the approval of NCATE.

The commission also calls for establishing an independent professional board in every state to set standards for teacher licensing. In most states, teacher licensing (certification) requirements are currently set by state education departments. By contrast, in law and medicine these standards are set by professional boards composed of respected practitioners. NCTAF proposes similar boards for teachers in order to set higher standards for teaching and to "create a fire wall between the political system and standards-setting process."

The commission's proposals extend to the assessment and compensation of experienced teachers as well. They call for states to establish goals and incentives for National Board Certification in every state and district, with the aim of certifying 105,000 teachers in this decade as "master teachers," one for every school in the United States. Teachers seeking this recognition submit portfolios for evaluation to the board (located just outside Detroit). …

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