Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Could The Key to Teacher Effectiveness Mean Dropping Certification Requirements?


Teachers Matter: Rethinking How Public Schools Identify, Reward, and Retain Great EducatorsMarcus A. Winters explained that there is no correlation between certification and teacher effectiveness at a recent Manhattan Institute for Policy Research event held to announce the publication of his new book, “Teachers Matter.” Winters went on to propose the idea of  removing the barriers to becoming a teacher, suggesting that since there is no correlation between certification and teacher effectiveness, anyone with a college degree should be given the opportunity to teach if they are able to find someone to hire them. The fact is that many of us who went through teacher preparation and certification programs know they were not very helpful when it comes to the realities of the classroom. It is no surprise then that such certification has little impact on student success.

I think Winter’s idea deserves some attention, particularly in the case of secondary studies, but I wonder why he believes that a college degree should be required. If you are an expert in your field, chances are you may have reached this success without such a degree. Especially, if we consider experts who may be interested in taking up teaching upon retirement from their career. Academic inflation is only a recent phenomenon. Historically the majority of careers i.e. business, programming, entertainment casting or directing, writing, advertising, photography, art, etc. did not require such certification for success.


When it comes to college, the jig is up. As the college grads who are occupying Wall Street and other places are happy to tell you, their degree often does little to prepare them with the skills they’ll need for success in a number of careers today. So, let’s take the college degree out of the equation too.

What if instead of requiring individuals to jump through certification hoops, we filled our secondary schools with real-world photographers, journalists, scientists, businesswomen, and others. These people also might not necessarily be employed full-time at the school. Instead, they may perhaps teach a class or two each semester.  They may take on the important charge of connecting students with mentors in their field, helping them grow their personal learning networks, and supporting them in acquiring apprenticeship and/or internship opportunities.  

For this vision to be effective, we’d need to do something that Winters didn’t give much attention.  We’d need to seriously change traditional evaluation of secondary schools, educators, and students and align it to evaluation metrics used in the field the student was interested in studying.  Instead of grades, students could meet challenges aligned to the real-world needs of their potential future careers. Such challenges might be what lands a student an internship or apprenticeship opportunity.  Perhaps to demonstrate mastery students earned badges that could be earned in a number of meaningful ways, chosen by the students.  Students, educators, and schools, could be assessed on how successfully they acquired such badges.  Additionally, depending on student learning goals, assessment could be further tied to schools if they supported students in reaching their personal success plans that honored not only students interested in an academic track, but also those interested in pursuing a vocational track as they do in countries like Finland.  

When it comes to secondary school, as long as teachers aren’t measured the same old way...with outdated, disconnected, bubble tests, I think Winters might be on to something.
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