What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certification? We Get More Minority Teachers and Test Scores Rise

By Peterson, Paul E.; Nadler, Daniel | Education Next, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certification? We Get More Minority Teachers and Test Scores Rise


Peterson, Paul E., Nadler, Daniel, Education Next


Forty-seven states have adopted a pathway to teaching, alternative to the standard state certification otherwise required. Is this new pathway genuine or merely symbolic? Does it open the classroom door to teachers of minority background? Does it help--or hinder--learning in the classroom? Claims about all of these questions have arisen in public discourse. Recently, data have become available that allow us to check their validity.

To receive a standard state certification in most states, prospective teachers not only must be college graduates but also must have taken a specific set of education-related courses that comprise approximately 30 credit hours of coursework. Prospective teachers are well advised to pursue studies at a college or university within the state where they expect to teach, because it is often only within that state that students can get the courses required for state certification in the subject area and for the grade levels that they will be teaching.

Such certification requirements limit the supply of certified teachers, and as a result, serious teaching shortages are regularly observed. For example, in California, one-third of the entire teacher work force, about 100,000 teachers, will retire over the next decade and need to be replaced, compounding what the governor's office calls a "severe" current teacher shortage. Other states are facing a similar situation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics projects a shortfall of 280,000 qualified math and science teachers by 2015. As former National Education Association president Reg Weaver put it, "At the start of every school year, we read in the newspaper ... stories about schools scrambling to hire teachers."

Teachers of minority background are in especially short supply. In 2004, only 14.1 percent of the nation's teachers were African American or Hispanic, even though these ethnic groups comprised 26.5 percent of the adult population. That shortage has led to calls for remedial action. In the words of Weaver, "An impressive body of research confirms that recruiting and retaining more minority teachers can be crucial to" raising the achievement of minority students. "States and school districts need to develop programs ... [that] reach out to minorities still in school, offering encouragement and incentives to enter the teaching profession. We need more minority teachers. School districts need to aggressively recruit them."

The Certification Debate

Both colleges of education and teachers unions oppose any relaxation of certification requirements. In Weaver's view, "The solution is not to develop alternative routes of entry into the profession or to increase the supply of recruits by allowing prospective teachers to skip 'burdensome' education courses or student teaching. The solution is to show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and show us the money."

According to this point of view, certification is necessary to ensure teacher quality, because teaching, like other professions (law, medicine, the sciences, and so forth), requires mastery of an esoteric body of substantive and pedagogical knowledge that can not be obtained without undergoing a rigorous training program. Arthur Wise, former head of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, "Rigorous teacher preparation is key to ensuring that no child is left behind ... Content knowledge is only one indicator of readiness to teach. ... [Schools of education] must prepare new teachers to teach the great diversity of students who are in America's classrooms today."

But Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says that the "certification process" has only a "crude capacity for ensuring" quality teachers, because pedagogical "knowledge can be acquired by means other than coursework." Teachers learn to teach by practicing the craft, not by taking coursework in its history or psychology. …

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