Academic journal article Education Next

Break the Link: The Fact That Schools of Education Could No Longer Rely on a Captive Body of Aspiring Teachers Would Expose Them to the Cleansing Winds of Competition. (Forum)

Academic journal article Education Next

Break the Link: The Fact That Schools of Education Could No Longer Rely on a Captive Body of Aspiring Teachers Would Expose Them to the Cleansing Winds of Competition. (Forum)

Article excerpt

Picture Gerard, a 28-year-old business consultant who majored in economics at Williams College and graduated with a 3.7 GPA. Gerard has been working for a consulting firm in Stamford, Connecticut, but is looking for a new, more fulfilling position. He has demonstrated strong interpersonal skills and work habits. In addition, though he didn't major in math, he aced several calculus courses in college. Yet if Gerard were to apply through normal channels to teach math at a junior high school in the Hartford public school system, his application wouldn't even be considered. Why? Because he isn't a certified teacher.

Why shouldn't principal or a faculty hiring committee in the Hartford schools even be allowed to look at Gerard's application, to judge his qualifications against those of other candidates? The assumption undergirding the contemporary approach to teacher certification is that public school hiring personnel are either unable or unwilling to gauge the quality of applicants. Our response has been to embrace a bureaucratic solution that handcuffs the capable and incapable alike and supposedly keeps weak teachers out of the classroom. As a result, having discouraged or turned away Gerard and hundreds like him, many large school systems resort to last-minute fill-ins who reach on emergency certificates.

This is not to suggest, even for a moment, that candidates with "real world" experience or high GPAs are necessarily qualified or equipped to become teachers or that professional preparation for teachers is unimportant. It is only to say that some potential applicants might be more effective teachers than the alternatives that are currently available to public schools.

The central premise underlying teacher certification is that--no matter what their qualifications are--anyone who has not completed the specified training is unsuited to enter a classroom and must be prohibited from applying for a job. Presumably, the danger is that; in a moment of weakness, a school official otherwise will mistakenly hire such an applicant rather than an appropriately trained teacher. It is essential to remember what we often seem to forget, which is that allowing someone to apply for a job is not the same as guaranteeing him employment. Making applicants eligible for a position simply permits an employer to hire them in the event that they are deemed superior to the existing alternatives. The argument against certification is not that unconventional applicants will be good teachers; it is only that they might be. If one believes this, case-by-case judgments are clearly more appropriate than an inflexible bureaucratic rule.

Imagine if colleges and universities refused to hire anyone who lacked a Ph.D. They would lose the talents and insights of "lay practitioners" like poet Maya Angelou, journalist William Raspberry, or former public officials such as Alan Simpson, Julian Bond, and Al Gore. The artists and writers in residence" at dozens of public universities would fail to meet the criteria implicit in the public school certification model, Do we really believe that these universities are ill-serving their students by hiring people whom the public schools would consider unqualified?

Competitive Certification

The theory behind certifying or licensing public school teachers is that this process elevates the profession by ensuring that aspiring teachers master a well-documented and broadly accepted body of knowledge and skills important to teaching. Supporters of teacher certification often make analogies to professions like law and medicine, where being an effective professional requires the acquisition of vast knowledge and skills, Licensure in these professions ensures at least minimal competency and boosts the public's confidence in members of the profession.

The problem is that no comparable body of knowledge and skills exists in teaching. …

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