Teacher licensing reform is needed

With shortages looming as veteran teachers retire, it’s time to take a closer look at present licensing (“A Model for Licensing Reform,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 4).  Although most states still require possession of a bachelor’s degree plus a year of student teaching for certification, alternative pathways exist.  Whether they undermine classroom effectiveness largely depends on how the programs are structured.

Colleges of education and teachers’ unions maintain that only traditional programs can produce quality teachers.  There is much truth to their argument because mere knowledge of subject matter is not enough.  But a study by Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler of states with quality alternative pathways to teaching found test-score gains on NAEP in 4th and 8th-grade math and reading over students in other states between 2003 and 2007.

The key word here is “quality.”  For example, Texas is the only state that allows for-profit companies not affiliated with higher education institutions to offer teaching certificates.  Such programs can take as little as three months to complete and cost about $4,000.  I seriously doubt that these programs can prepare its students for the realities of the classroom.  Yet they exist.

I’m open to alternative licensing programs as long as they produce evidence that they don’t shortchange their graduates.  One promising approach is to have a panel of well-trained judges observe a candidate teach a class.  Auditions have long been used with great success in the performing arts.  I fail to see why they can’t be used in identifying qualified teachers. So far, however, the innovation has not caught on. I realize that it takes time to develop the wherewithal to be effective in the classroom. But some college graduates are “naturals” who should not be forced to sit through classes of pedagogy.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “Teacher licensing reform is needed”

  1. Don’t know enough about real-world K-12 teaching to have an informed opinion re what the training and certification requirements should be.

    Anecdotal evidence — speaking to rookie teachers over the years — strongly suggests that the current training/certification approaches provide grossly inadequate in-the-classroom/classroom-management training/experience. I’m told that the ed college programs are too heavy on theory and too light on real-world, particularly classroom management. The alternative programs are even lighter on real-world. Several rookie teachers made the point to me that “student teaching” often meant either sitting in the room watching the senior teacher teach or teaching yourself with zero or very limited guidance from the senior teacher — sometimes the senior teacher just disappeared for days at a time, providing zero guidance to the student teacher.

    Seems like this is a variation on the theme that teaching is unique among the professions in the extremely limited amount of first-line supervision of teachers, including rookie teachers. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and architects — at least when working for large employers, as most do at the start of their careers — always have real first-line supervisors who exercise hands-on day-to-day oversight of the junior professional’s work and who are themselves held accountable by senior management for the quality/quantity of the junior professional’s work. Junior teachers operate on their own with virtually zero such supervision.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Most of the courses required for a teaching license are heavy on theory, which has little application to the classroom. Moreover, the value of student teaching largely depends on the training teacher. I was extremely fortunate to have had the head of the UCLA coordinator as my master teacher. He taught me how to apply the principles of teaching to the realities of the classroom. The sooner teacher candidates are immersed into actual teaching the higher the likelihood that they will be successful on their own.


  3. I have taught math in both Massachusetts and Florida and the certification requirements are miles apart. In MA I taught with many former engineers. They knew the math, but did not have a clue about teaching and classroom management. I had to cover an A.P. Calculus class one day so the principal could discuss the teacher’s lack of discipline in her class. Again, just because you know the material does not mean you can teach it. My teaching changed over the years and many math teachers tell me that I was not really teaching ” THE REAL MATH WAY”.
    Unless things change fast, there will be fewer and fewer people entering the teaching field.
    Where I am in FL, the school board members get paid more than a beginning teacher. A county commissioner is paid twice as much as a beginning teacher.
    I would love to work with new teachers as I feel I have a lot to offer them so they could be better teachers.

    Love what you are doing,

    John Nygren


  4. John: You’re absolutely right. Knowledge of subject matter is no assurance of classroom effectiveness. Most assume that telling is teaching. But students get bored and act out when they are reduced to passive learners. When I was in K-12, students for the most part were well behaved. Today, however, they become disruptive. I don’t know why anyone would want to make teaching a lifetime career. Constant criticism and increasing demands have combined to undermine morale.


    1. There are many more differences between MA and FL.
      1. MA does not have county school systems – FL all county
      2. MA has a number of vocational technical high schools – there are none in FL
      3. In my experience in MA, there were very few discipline problems.
      4. In FL it takes a minimum of 30 years to get to maximum pay scale – in most MA systems it is 12-15 years
      5. The per pupil expenditure in FL is $7,400 – there are some systems in MA that spend $20,000 to $25,000 per pupil

      John Nygren


  5. John: Thanks for this valuable information. I’ve written often about the need to give vocational education the respect it deserves. Yet we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Massachusetts has few discipline problems. When students see a direct connection between what they are studying and their future plans, they don’t disrupt classes. I write about student assaults on teachers in my blog on Monday. Let me know what you think.


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