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.


  1. same story for teachers as we face for kids... for anyone really..
    this validation... this keeping us all from brilliance. daily. and exponentially.

    thanks guys..

  2. Although I agree that the courses I took for certification were a series of hoops, it sounds like the secondary schools you are describing equate to the colleges we have now. We have professors who are sometimes pros in their field teaching a couple of classes a week--or having a TA do it for them because they are more passionate about their own work than they are about teaching. I like the idea, but I think it is important to come up with some way to be sure the passion for teaching is there, even in the pros. ...Not that we are doing that now with our current certification measures...

  3. @monika hardy, agree!

    @KBacklund, you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that we don't ensure teachers have a passion for teaching anyhow.

    The point that Winters makes is we can't measure effectiveness based on certification. The point I make, is lets let the experts into the profession. Let's face it. Many experts would want to do this because they want to give students real insights into their work. A win for the teacher and students. The reality is that if this could become a part-time endeavor, or even something that businesses contributed to schools, the school wins with a reduction in staff costs...similar, as you alluded to, an adjunct professor.

    In the past our secondary schools were more like our colleges are today. I think that model, rather than "College for All" makes a lot more sense.

  4. I quite agree that certifcation does not mean a person is a good teacher. On the other hand, being able to do a job well does not mean that person (1) will be able to teach those job skills to others or (2) will be interested in teaching in a a public school.

    I'm more inclined to think education needs a professional development program like that of physicians assistants. To get entry into a PA program, a person must have documented evidence of between 500 and 2000 hours of work with patients. Students with that experience not only know what they are getting into, but are better able to profit from course work, shaping the content of teacher education programs from the inside.

  5. @LindaAragoni, I agree that doing a job well doesn't mean a person with be able to teach those skills or be interested in teaching in a school. However, if they're not interested in teaching, they won't be. End of that problem. If they are interested, they can have the opportunity without the hoops.

    When it comes to doing the job well, Winters points out that we can only determine that once they actually have the job. Once at the job clear effectiveness measures need to be laid out so they can be evaluated. As I mentioned in my post, I disagree with the measure Winters suggests which relies too heavily on irrelevant bubble tests, however, I think we can get to a place where authentic measures can indeed be put in place so educators can be evaluated and supported more effectively.

  6. There are so many alternative licensure requirements now that if someone wanted to teach and didn't want to do the time it would be fairly easy to do anyway, so I don't see that licensure requirements are standing in anyones way who really wants to become a teacher.

  7. I remember a quote from a famous economist who said that he has taught graduate students, post graduates and undergraduates. The only students he couldn't teach were high school students. Makes you think, doesn't it? How can that make sense?

    Recent research from two Harvard researchers endeavors to measure quantitatively the impact of qualitative best practices like feedback, culture and tutoring.

  8. @Anonymous, it depends where you want to teach. In places like New York City the hoops still exist.

  9. The problem here is the so-called hoops bring a minimum standard and basic a pedagogical background. Teaching requires more than subject matter expertise. My ex was brilliant with his internet work but whenever he tried to teach me or his parents something he was god-awful and couldn't understand why we didn't know the vocabulary he used. Also, anyone who thinks that this would not be abused by our highly politicized districts by installing cronies and others through nepotism is dreaming. Finally, there is the 'standards' issue. If we're going to really create schools like this, schools must be released from the current wall of standards based testing and curriculum targeted to teach the passing of said tests. But I still stand, if teaching is your passion, you will complete the alternate route or traditional course work to join the profession. If teaching is to stand as a respected profession we should not be throwing out the "hoops" that make teachers credible professionals.

  10. 32 years of teaching in highly successful independent schools earns me nothing towards certification. Something is wrong....they officially will classify as a long term substitute but nothing more!