As with teacher compensation reforms, lowering
barriers to entry into the teacher labor market for intelligent and motivated
career-changers and undergraduates considering multiple careers has great
potential to impact teacher quality in Michigan. Certification is perhaps the
most significant barrier to entry into the teaching profession. As noted in Part III, where certification requirements are described in more detail, the current
traditional certification system in Michigan requires that teachers graduate
from an approved teacher preparation program and pass at least two licensure
tests. The state-approved teacher preparation programs determine the coursework
requirements in both content areas and teaching skills. Research on the degree
to which teacher certification impacts classroom performance (also presented in
Part III) indicates that alternatively certified teachers and even intelligent
uncertified teachers perform at least no worse than their traditionally
certified counterparts. State policymakers should therefore consider reforms to
traditional teacher certification to increase the pool of talented people
willing to enter the profession.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that
states certify teachers. NCLB does not, however, specify precisely what teacher
certification must require. Thus, even under NCLB, states have discretion about
how they will certify teachers.
Four main approaches to teacher certification
are conceivable: first, the state could decide to give local districts or
schools the discretion to certify teachers at the local level; second, the state
could require teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities to
change their coursework requirements to make teaching programs more attractive
to undergraduate majors in other fields; third, the state could drop the
coursework requirements altogether and simply require the passing of a content
knowledge or other licensure test; or fourth, the state could make alternative
certification programs more attractive and navigable for teachers seeking
nontraditional licensure. The first option is ideal because it would give local
schools greater autonomy, but the current emphasis on mandatory licensing
requirements makes this approach unlikely in the near-term. The second option,
though worth exploring, is outside the scope of this book, which emphasizes
possible changes within the school system, rather than reforms to university
curricula. This leaves the third and fourth options: reforms to teacher testing
and alternative certification.
A 2005 annual report on teacher quality from
the U.S. Department of Education revealed that in the prior year roughly 35,000
people nationwide received alternative certification, while 170,000 graduated
from traditional certification programs.
In contrast, Michigan reported zero teachers entering the teaching ranks through
alternative methods in 2002 and 2003, with only seven entering in 2004. Over the
same three-year period, roughly 1,600 teaching candidates in Alabama, 8,600
teaching candidates in California and 5,000 teaching candidates in
Massachusetts received alternative certification.
According to the USDOE’s 2006 annual teacher quality report, the number of new
teachers entering the teaching profession through alternative programs "jumped
by more than 15 percent from the previous year, and 47 states now have
alternative route programs."
The 2006 report showed that in Michigan in the 2003-2004 school year, less than
1 percent of the 8,350 individuals completing teacher preparation programs
arrived through alternative routes, versus 22 percent in California, 42 percent
in New York and 4 percent in Ohio.
An analysis by Jess Castle and Sandi Jacobs of
the National Council on Teacher Quality may indicate why Michigan does not have
high-performing career-changers and undergraduates entering teaching through
Castle and Jacobs report that Michigan’s alternative programs — the "Section
1233b Permit" and "Limited License to Instruct (LLI)" — are not "genuine."
The NCTQ argues that genuine alternative certification programs have high
admission standards regarding academic ability, but allow reasonably quick
certification, without the completion of excessive coursework. In other words,
for alternative routes to be worthwhile, there should be a combination of high
academic standards for participants, but low requirements for program completion
— not the other way around.
Michigan’s traditional certification
requirements and ineffective alternative certification programs create excessive
barriers to entry into the profession. Michigan policymakers at the state level
should reform this process by modeling alternative certification routes on the
successful programs in other states. Given that NCLB requires that states
certify teachers as a part of its "Highly Qualified" teacher provision, it is
not realistic to advocate doing away with certification altogether, but
certainly Michigan policymakers can make entry into the profession through
alternative means a more navigable and attractive process.
Although the teacher labor market is not
growing in Michigan as it is in states experiencing major population growth,
every year there are numerous teaching vacancies in Michigan’s public schools
due to retirements and teachers making other career choices. New alternative
certification routes would give schools a greater chance of filling these
positions, a policy that could help schools in Michigan’s large urban centers.
State policymakers should study other states that have had success in attracting
highly intelligent and motivated new teachers through creative alternative
One such alternative certification program is
the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Research has shown that this program
produces effective teachers (see Part III). To apply for this program,
candidates must have earned a bachelor’s degree with a grade point average of at
least 3.0. Before entering the classroom, the "teaching fellows" must pass the
state’s basic skills and relevant content-area licensure tests. Participants in
this program are then given provisional certificates and participate in
intensive preservice teacher training. They also enroll in a master’s degree
program that will allow them to earn full certification upon completion of three
successful years of teaching in the district.
The program began in 2000, and it has drawn a large number of applicants since
its inception. In its inaugural year, 2,100 applications were submitted for the
325 available slots.
For the 2007 program, less than 20 percent of applicants were accepted for the
2,000 slots that are now available annually. Currently, about 8,000 of the
city’s 78,000 teachers have been a part of the NYCTF program.
Fellows earn the same salary as other starting teachers, but they receive a
stipend during preservice training and tuition reduction for their master’s
Teach for America is another alternative route
to the classroom. As noted in Part III, TFA is a private program that works with
uncertified, academically able recent college graduates. These participants
receive some teacher training before being placed as teachers for two years in
economically disadvantaged schools. Although there is some conflicting evidence
on the effectiveness of TFA teachers, the highest-quality studies suggest that
TFA teachers can be more effective than other uncertified and even traditionally
certified teachers in raising math achievement, and that they are about the same
as other teachers in raising reading achievement.
The TFA program began in 1990 by placing 500
teachers in public schools serving disadvantaged student populations, and
Detroit Public Schools began to accept TFA teachers in 2002.
Citing the need to lay off a considerable number of teachers at the end of 2004
because of financial problems, DPS discontinued its relationship with TFA. The
district had employed as many as 34 TFA teachers.
Currently, there are more than 5,000 TFA
members serving in 26 different geographical areas nationwide.
Given that TFA teachers tend to be reasonably effective in raising student
achievement, it seems unfortunate that the program was ended in Detroit.
Michigan districts seeking to fill teaching vacancies should consider
establishing a working relationship with the program.
On another tack, state policymakers should
review the teacher testing component of certification, since a small reform of
teacher licensure testing might improve the existing certification system. As
discussed in Part III, teacher testing may be a worthwhile mechanism to
establish minimum standards for teacher quality. Despite some research that
suggests that teachers who perform better on the current licensure tests tend to
have higher-performing students, Michigan policymakers should not rush to impose
higher cut points or to make tests harder in an effort to raise teacher quality.
In addition to the concerns about unintended consequences raised in Part III,
the University of Arkansas’ Sandra Stotsky explains that the issues involved in
using teacher tests in this way may be complicated. In a recent paper reviewing
the research literature about teacher licensure tests and mathematics teachers,
Stotsky found that many decisions must be made before licensure tests for
mathematics teachers can be designed for the purpose of raising teacher quality.
According to Stotsky, these decisions involve determinations regarding "1) the
mathematics needed for teaching mathematics at different educational levels, 2)
the range of mathematical competence among the students who might be in a
typical elementary, middle, or high school classroom, and 3) the demands of the
mathematics textbooks and other curriculum materials that teachers may be
required to use, especially in the elementary and middle school."
Stotsky added, "Some of the details can be informed by research; others require
Thus, the substantive teacher testing reform
policymakers should explore is asking applicants to provide their test scores
when applying for a teaching position. This data could inform a principal’s
hiring decisions and help local schools to make decisions about appropriate cut
score levels. Policymakers need to address with teacher unions how these scores
can be made available to principals. In principle, local schools and districts
should be provided the maximum discretion to make hiring decisions.
State policymakers should be wary of calls to
adopt licensure tests of applicants’ knowledge of pedagogy. A number of other
states require such tests,
and the National Council on Teacher Quality recommends them. But the NCTQ reports that the Michigan Department of Education doubts the
validity of this testing, and the department is right to do so. At present,
there does not appear to be any compelling evidence that teachers who pass tests
of pedagogy as a part of traditional certification programs are more effective
in the classroom. Absent such evidence, there seems little reason to add yet
another barrier to entry into the teaching profession.
Other reforms are more promising. The American
Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, a nonprofit organization
based in Washington, D.C., was started in 2001 with a federal grant. ABCTE’s primary purpose is to serve as an alternative certification program
that uses passage of a teaching skills test and a content knowledge test to help
career-changers transition to the classroom. Currently, seven states, not
including Michigan, allow ABCTE certification to count as state certification
and to qualify teachers as "Highly Qualified" under the No Child Left Behind
ABCTE certifies teachers in 11 subject areas, and the process, which must be
completed within one year, generally takes six to 10 months.
In addition to passing the two tests, participants in the ABCTE program must
hold a bachelor’s degree from an approved university and pass a background
According to a preliminary report on ABCTE conducted by Steven Glazerman and
Christina Tuttle of Mathematica Policy Research Inc., participants pay $500 for
the program, and they complete a study program to prepare for the two
From the program’s initiation until November 2005, slightly more than 1,000
participants had registered for the ABCTE program, and 109 had successfully
completed it. Of that number, 56 had begun teaching full time in American
Most of these were located in Idaho, Pennsylvania and Florida. In a follow-up
study, Glazerman and colleagues report that principal surveys of ABCTE teachers
yielded generally positive results. With these results in mind, Michigan policymakers should explore a relationship
with ABCTE as a way to attract and certify high-quality career-changers into the classroom.
Glazerman and Christina Tuttle, “An Evaluation of American Board Teacher
Certification: Progress and Plans” (Mathematica Policy Research Inc., 2006),
(accessed May 21, 2008). Glazerman and Tuttle report: “The remaining 38 percent of Passport holders are not teaching in a full-time capacity, for a variety of reasons: 10 percent are working in an education-related field but are not in the
classroom, and 6 percent are substitute teaching. The majority of the
non-teachers indicated some desire to be teaching — 10 percent indicated that
they could not find a position; of these, over half specified that it was
because the hiring authority would not accept the American Board certification
(either the state, locality, or school would not accept it, or they required
additional credentials)” (Page 7).