Opinion: Tangled teacher certification process offers no assurance of teacher quality

Robert Maranto (rmaranto@uark.edu) is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership at the University of Arkansas, and was recently elected to school board in Fayetteville where his two children attend public schools.

By Robert Maranto

Recently Birmingham made the news when Alabama Teach of the Year Ann Marie Corgill resigned rather than pay fees, take tests, and suffer endless paperwork to gain certification to teach 5th grade, after moving up from 2nd grade to fill a need. Corgill’s lower elementary certification didn’t allow her to teach 5th grade, no matter her intelligence and proven record in the classroom.

Mirza_Khushnam_14Fall_Illu764_AJC 6Sometimes a single incident puts a public school standard operating procedure on the national agenda, like back in 2003 when a New Orleans high school valedictorian could not pass a basic math proficiency test, or when the Atlantic magazine outed the “rubber room” with 700 teachers the New York City Public Schools wanted to fire but had to keep due to a restrictive contract. The former encouraged the largely successful remaking of New Orleans public education; the latter pushed the movement to improve how we evaluate and (occasionally) terminate teachers.

The Corgill case should put teacher certification on the national agenda. In many states teacher certification is incredibly bureaucratic, with principals playing guessing games as to which teachers are certified by what regulations within a cumbersome system only bureaucrats love. Yet. as my former colleague Sandra Stotsky details in “An Empty Curriculum, teacher certification offers no assurance of teacher quality. Teacher licensure tests are typically set to measure junior high school levels of intellect, shortchange subject matter expertise, and largely fail to cover such basics as how children learn to read.

Similarly, teacher surveys reported by former Teachers College Dean Arthur Levine, and my own fieldwork in over 150 public schools, indicate that teachers do not find their training and professional development useful. The courses required for an education major typically fail to cover basics like classroom management, leaving new teachers ill-prepared. Publishers offer a whole array of how-to books like Wong’s and Wong’s “The First Days of School” and Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion” to cover what most schools of education fail to offer.

Need more proof teacher certification is broken? As Mike McShane and I report in President Obama and Education Reform,” the Hawaiian prep school young Barack Obama attended, the Punahou School, does not even consider certification when hiring new teachers. (I asked their personnel office.) That’s also true at the famous University of Chicago Laboratory (“Lab”) Schools once attended by the President’s daughters, and at their current school, Sidwell Friends, whose alumni include Chelsea Clinton.

It’s the same at St. Paul’s whose alumni include John Kerry, at John McCain’s Episcopal High School, and at Philips Academy (AKA Andover), attended by both Presidents Bush. America’s elites would never let unlicensed doctors operate on their kids; yet they pay big bucks for their kids to learn from unlicensed teachers. What gives?

As David Labaree details in The Trouble With Ed. Schools, teacher training developed in the early 20th century when teaching was considered “women’s work” unworthy of the attention accorded real professions like law or medicine. As Stotsky explains in “An Empty Curriculum,” in the first half of the 20th century standardized tests assured that teachers had sufficient subject matter knowledge. Moreover, sexism assured schools an endless supply of highly talented female teachers who were by and large barred from other professions.

After World War II the old system began to break down. As Stotsky writes, by the 1950s the nation faced teacher shortages, and school superintendents had no interest in test scores when the law required a teacher in every classroom. Teacher licensure tests lost rigor and adopted embarrassingly low pass scores that “are not set to protect children in our public schools from academically incompetent teachers [but] to protect teacher preparation institutions” from losing funding if prospective teachers fail. This happened as college-educated women gained opportunities outside teaching, meaning that public schools no longer had a guaranteed supply of cheap, smart labor. State education bureaucracies made an already bad situation worse by adding layers of regulations to teacher certification, creating what then U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige described as systems of “high barriers with low standards.”

So what should we do? I would scrap nontransparent certification and professional development requirements, increase the rigor of teacher licensure examinations, and raise starting pay. In combination these could professionalize teaching to the point where presidents and senators insist their children study under certified teachers.

These changes would not attack public education, but rather save public schools from being strangled by useless red tape. Just ask Ann Marie Corgill.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
Tcope
Tcope

My children attend an elite school in Atlanta. None of their teachers are certified. Their education is far superior to that they would receive in the local public schools where all the teachers are "certified".

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"Alabama Teach of the Year Ann Marie Corgill resigned rather than pay fees, take tests, and suffer endless paperwork to gain certification to teach 5th grade, after moving up from 2nd grade to fill a need."

My guess, this teacher only wanted to teach lower grades and was p***ed when they told her to move to fifth.  She had made up her mind to quit and the certification was an excuse, not the reason for her resignation.

Can't really blame her though.  There is a HUGE difference in teaching first grade from fifth.  Elementary teachers often spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars of their personal money to build an inventory of teaching aids such as manipulatives.  Move a first grade teacher from first to fifth and all that time, effort and expense is worthless and becomes clutter in the garage.

Some administrators are deaf, dumb, and blind to that dynamic and think just because a teacher's contract says K-5, they can move them at will.  Technically, yes.  The best decision, most often not.  Worse, some administrators will engage in an annual shifting of resources just to prove they "are in charge".

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

For Readers:

Want to be more informed about the WalMart Foundation's support for and interest in promoting the privatization of public schools, read this link from Bill Moyers' website:

http://billmoyers.com/2013/03/02/why-are-walmart-billionaires-bankrolling-phony-school-reform-in-la/

Excerpt: "The Walton family became America’s richest family by creating a retail model built on ruthless cost-cutting, low wages and few benefits. So, it isn’t surprising that some studies show that charter school teachers are paid less than teachers at traditional public schools and have few years of education on average. Is this the right model for our schools?"

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Information for Readers:


Mrs. Walton of the WalMart Foundation, Inc. donated a significant amount of funds to passing the Special Charter School Amendment to Georgia's Constitution a couple of years ago.  Wal-Mart is based out of Arkansas.


Here is an article this writer (Robert Moranto) penned for The Baltimore Sun, defending Michelle Rhee.  I was not impressed with his thinking regarding Rhee's tactics.


http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-04-11/news/bs-ed-rhee-20110411_1_nclb-cheating-on-standardized-tests-naep-scores



HollyJones
HollyJones

When I was going through the College of Education at UGA for my degree in foreign language education, I was stunned when I realized that I would graduate with more hours in Ed classes than Spanish classes. Perhaps this is different now (at least I hope it is). Much about teaching cannot be learned in a college classroom. But a whole heck of a lot of Spanish can be.  I would have been much more confident had I had more grounding in my content area.  One of the reasons I didn't get my master's was that I would have taken the exact same methods classes.  An M.A. in Spanish would not have counted towards the master's pay scale. That made absolutely no sense to me.  How would taking the same classes twice make me a better teacher than knowing more about my content area? 


 I had no classes in classroom management, and felt that lack for the first few years I taught.  I also realized that you can't learn how to manage people of any age from a book. As a previous poster said, that takes on the job training. However, some exposure would have better than none. 


 I think teacher training would be much better served by having fewer "theory" classes and much, much more observation and practice teaching time.  Spend more than a few weeks with a teacher; go to every, single meeting and every, single after school event s/he attends; sit in on parent conferences.  Then, if you haven't been run off, you should have to teach all day, every day instead of a lesson here or there.  Perhaps, as with the course requirements, it's different now.  For the sake of future teachers, I sure hope so. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

"like back in 2003 when a New Orleans high school valedictorian could not pass a basic math proficiency test,"

That is why standardized testing is important. This valedictorian was GIVEN great grades by his/her teachers!

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I would like to know if he is paid by The Walton Foundation. They "own" the education department at the University of Arkansas and have contributed a lot of money to aid in the privatization of our schools. This sounds like agenda to discredit teaching programs and put non-accredited teachers in the classroom.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@sneakpeakintoeducation 

I don't know about any such privatization agenda, but just did some preliminary checking. He used to work with the Clinton administration, has a book out on Obama and education...and I fully support anybody who writes in his University bio. that "in concert with others Bob has written or edited 11 scholarly books which have sold dozens [!] of copies and are so boring that his own mother refused to read them."

CSpinks
CSpinks

When will we teachers decide to clean up the mess that is teacher certification?


Of course, we teachers have to give our educratic "superiors" credit. Like Caesar, they long ago appreciated that, before they could conquer us, they would have to divide us. And the educrats have done that.

HILUX
HILUX

It's cheesy to let contributing writers plug their own books, don't you think?

But no, suggesting reforms would never be anti- public education. At least to parents who don't have the resources to send their kids to swank private schools instead, like the Obamas (and the teachers' union bosses).

Starik
Starik

First step: rigorous academic requirements for new teachers. If necessary, and it will be, provide generous salaries for those who qualify.  Establish the same requirements for current teachers; if they can qualify, pay them generously.  If they can't qualify move them out of the profession as soon as they can be replaced by someone who is qualified. 

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Starik Getting ourselves out of this mess will not be easy, quick, cheap, pleasant or danger-free.

Starik
Starik

@CSpinks @Starik Worth the effort though. Thankfully, my last kid graduated high school, so I don't have to deal with illiterate notes from teachers. 

liberal4life
liberal4life

Private schools can hire whoever they want. Although I have no data to back up my belief, I think they more often than not look at candidates' content backgrounds. I think teacher preparation programs are filled with too many courses like "classroom management." I do realize classroom management is important, but you can learn so much about management in theory. A lot of classroom management skills must be learned on the job.


The situation in Alabama is not so outrageous when you realize that the teacher in question had a certification for lower elementary - thus different requirements. If you say those distinctions are irrelevant, why not have an elementary teacher teach HS US History?


I do agree that teacher education programs are mess, but what they need more is content preparation - not necessarily more advanced content, but more in-depth understanding of what they are expected to teach.

bu22
bu22

@liberal4life If you don't know what to do, no amount of on the job work will teach you how to manage a classroom.  Ideally, there would be class time coupled with field work.  Even if they figure it out, students can lose a year of learning while they do.  And many times those new teachers are thrown in Kindergarten or 1st grade.