It's Time to Take Teaching Seriously

But more certification exams aren't the answer

In Bridge Magazine, author Ron French argues that teacher certification requirements should be increased to keep ineffective teachers out of classrooms.

Hasn't Bridge heard? Apparently Michigan's teaching pool is doing quite well. After all, 99.6 percent of Michigan teachers were rated effective or better in 2012. Some school districts claim they don't have a single teacher who isn't doing his or her job. 

All sarcasm aside, Bridge's point regarding public school quality in Michigan is valid. The state's public schools have mediocre graduation rates, and public school students post poor results on the NAEP, often called the nation's report card. Moreover, as Bridge notes, classroom teachers can have a large impact on student achievement. Any policy that attempts to grapple with Michigan's education woes needs to address improving teaching quality.

But simply adding more certification requirements will not bring better teachers to Michigan classrooms. Florida is a recent example of a state that has dramatically outpaced Michigan in educational outcomes. Instead of making its teacher certification more restrictive, Florida opened up its certification process and allowed more alternatives to becoming a teacher.

Decades of research show that the results of additional certification are mixed at best. Economist Eric Hanushek writes that, "...though certification requirements may prevent some poorly prepared teachers from entering the profession, they may also exclude others who would be quite effective in the classroom."

Additional certification requirements will not solve one of the central problems of education policy, namely, what makes a good teacher? If good teachers were simply those who were certified, or those with master's degrees, or those with the most experience, this important problem would be much easier to solve. 

Though it may be difficult to predict who will be a good teacher, results are easier to measure. School leaders can look at classroom student gains and use in-class observations to gauge teacher quality. These are measures of quality in line with what the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness recommended earlier this year.

Though school leaders were previously hamstrung by collective bargaining agreements and state laws that severely limited the firing of ineffective teachers, Michigan legislators have provided a path forward.

In the coming years, it will be possible for teaching to be treated as a profession that rewards excellence instead of rewarding length of service and degrees. Teachers now can be rewarded with higher pay for doing a better job. Ineffective teachers can be fired. Tenure is no longer a guarantee of employment.

Teacher quality will not improve until local unions and administrators stop cooperating to avoid requirements intended to improve the teaching pool. In school districts such as Lansing, Saginaw and Waterford, administrators have chosen to rate every teacher as "effective." This is insulting to high-quality teachers, and will make it impossible to remove the worst teachers.

School leaders have the tools to remove ineffective teachers, or will soon, as new contracts become subject to recent legislative reforms. When school leaders begin to reward high-performing teachers and dismiss inadequate ones, teacher quality will begin to improve.

Instead of making entering the teaching profession more restrictive, holding teachers accountable to results will improve educational outcomes.