certification requirements often seem to result from policymakers sitting
around a table and asking: What college courses, judging by their names, might
it be useful for teachers to take? The result is often a laundry list of costly
requirements that stand between prospective teachers' desire to teach and their
ability to apply for teaching jobs in public schools.
requirements are barriers to entry into the teaching profession that bar or
deter individuals from applying for teaching jobs. They thereby reduce the overall quality of the
teacher labor pool.
a feeble effort to correct some of the shortcomings of the traditional
certification regime, Michigan policymakers recently passed legislation that
Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law — House Bill 5596 — that allows for, but heavily restricts, the creation of alternative routes to
certification. The more alternative routes to teaching are created, the
stronger the teacher talent pool will become. The new law, however, does not go
nearly far enough, and it does not represent serious reform.
text of House Bill 5596 exhibits a continuing addiction to strict state
regulation of the teacher labor market and a fundamental lack of trust in the
capacity of local school officials to use their professional judgment to
evaluate prospective teachers on a case-by-case basis, just as hiring
professionals do in most fields in the private sector. Michigan policymakers
continue to presume that traditional certification provides some
sort of quality guarantee that alternative certification does not. But this
position is not supported by either evidence or logic.
The alternative routes to teaching created by
the new law will retain most of the same costs as the traditional route, adding
Michigan to the growing list of states that have set up a framework for
alternative certification that is really no alternative at all.
The main reason for the weakness of most
alternative certification laws is that they are written under the heavy
influence of teachers unions and schools of education. These powerful groups
are deeply invested in the traditional certification process.
Teachers unions benefit from the restricted
teacher labor market that certification requirements create. Onerous licensure
requirements create artificial labor shortages and drive up wages. They allow
unions to stamp all of their members as equally well-qualified, a fiction which
helps unions make the case for seniority-based pay and "last in, first out"
retention systems that take no notice of teacher performance or student
outcomes, but fit easily into collectively bargained contracts and promote a steady
and reliable base of union dues.
Education schools, meanwhile, benefit from
certification requirements that force prospective and current teachers to
shower teacher training programs with tuition revenue in order to gain and
retain their "certified" status — often at substantial personal cost. Such
certification and "professional development" requirements make the
manufacturing of teachers a lucrative business, and it is difficult to believe
that all 32 of Michigan's state-approved teacher education programs could
survive if the state did not essentially force teachers to fund them.
Michigan's new alternative certification law
keeps traditional education schools protected. For instance, the law requires
that all alternatively certified teachers purchase "the equivalent of at least
12 college credit hours" from a state-approved education school and endure the
Tests for Teacher Certification.
In addition, the alternative certification
programs will only be approved if they systematically deny admission to
applicants with undergraduate GPAs below 3.0 - no matter what college or
university the applicants went to, how many years have elapsed since the
applicants graduated from college, or what the applicants have accomplished
since college graduation. Michigan's teacher colleges are not held to any such
Furthermore, alternative certification programs
applying for state approval must submit to an outcome-focused evaluation
process that will hold such programs to a tough double standard. While the
state has displayed little interest in investigating whether its traditional
certification requirements and programs have produced more effective teachers and
raised student outcomes, alternative certification programs will have to
demonstrate that they have "a proven record of producing successful teachers in
1 or more other states or (be) modeled after a program that has a proven record
of producing successful teachers in 1 or more other states."
This ensures that the ultimate authority for
determining whether an alternative certification program can set up shop in
Michigan will rest with the State Board of Education and with state panels such
as the Professional Standards Commission for Teachers (PSCT), which is
dominated by individuals affiliated with or closely connected to teachers
colleges and unions.
Finally, the law mandates that districts must
provide "intensive observation and coaching" for an alternatively certified
individual's first three to six years in the system. Depending on how it is
interpreted, this requirement could dramatically raise the costs to districts
of hiring alternatively certified teachers, creating a major disincentive for
them to do so.
There are better ways to increase the number of
effective teachers in Michigan than forcing prospective and current teachers to
sit through countless education courses (which vary widely in quality and have
no proven relationship to increased student achievement). For starters,
decisions about who ought to teach, and who should be allowed to apply for
teaching positions, should be made locally. These decisions should not be made
in Lansing or Washington in the format of rigid, one-size-fits-all barriers to
entry into the teaching profession.
Local school officials elected by district
residents should be allowed to invite applications for teaching positions from
all comers, judge applicants according to locally set criteria related to
academic excellence, professional demeanor and experience, and hire the best
applicant for each position. They should also be given the flexibility to
remove teachers who are ineffective and fail to make needed improvements.
The new alternative certification law has the
potential to attract a small number of additional talented teachers to
Michigan's schools by creating less-costly routes to certification and allowing
teachers to circumvent a few of the enormous costs and annoyances of
traditional certification. But it will not generate large-scale improvements in
teacher quality. Real reform requires that state-mandated certification be
scrapped in favor of an open and flexible labor market for teachers.
McCarl is a writer and high school history teacher. He writes about education