Teacher certification better than nothing

Earlier this week blogger Lisa Nielsen proposed an alternative to teacher certification: no certification, no college required. I have serious objections to the the teacher certification process, but find Nielsen’s proposal no better and her logic seriously flawed.

Nielsen begins by saying that since there apparently is no correlation between certification and teacher effectiveness it makes sense to eliminate teacher certification programs.

Then she says college graduation shouldn’t be a requirement for teaching either.  She says:

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.

While it certainly may be true that college does not prepare students for career success, I suspect the reason the occupiers are unemployed has more to do with the overall economy and the  jobs available where they are looking than with college programs. One could have superb skills for success as a marine biologist and still be unable to find employment in the Sahara Desert.

Having disposed of the need for both teacher certification and a college degree, Nielsen eliminates what for want of a better term I’ll call “professional teachers.”  She proposes:

[filling] our secondary schools with real-world photographers, journalists, scientists, businesswomen, and others.

These would not be full-time teachers, but instead “teach a class or two.” 

Many experts would want to do this because they want to give students real insights into their work.

Somehow I’m not able envision “many” experts lining up give students insights into their work.  Most professional people I know don’t want to come within hailing distance of a high school classroom. Some of them are great teachers; they just don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to learn or with school bureaucracy.

Nielsen says, “if they’re not interested in teaching, they won’t be. End of that problem.”

Is it?

Suppose the experts only want to be in schools with the best equipment and best support. Do they get to pick their assignments?  What happens to the “regular” teachers from those schools? Do they lose their jobs? Get sent to less desirable postings? Or perhaps we can get rid of all of the “regular teachers” since they have college degrees and teaching certification which are not correlated with teaching success.

What about this: if people from the outside are what’s needed to change schools, what happens to students in the schools that get no professional expertise? I don’t think it takes much imagination to figure out which schools and which populations groups will get the short end of that stick.

Nielsen would like professionals to teach on a free or “adjunct” basis to save the schools money. That’s what colleges have done for years. It’s why adjuncts are attempting to unionize to demand higher wages, benefits, and better working conditions. Few proposals are likely to cause more resentment toward public education than a call for working people to work for the public schools for less than public school pay.

To my comment that being able to do a job well does not mean that person will be able to teach those job skills to others Nielsen responded 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.

That means after we’ve “filled our secondary schools with real-world photographers, journalists, scientists, businesswomen, and others” we would be in exactly the same situation we’re in now: we would have people in our classrooms who may or may not be able to teach and have no way to evaluate their performance.

I won’t attempt to list the issues of liability, intellectual property, FERPA, employment contracts, etc. that would be arise from such a radical proposal.  And as much as I value transparency in public institutions, the idea of hordes of people with no education training blabbing about what they saw fills me with dread.

I’m not a certified teacher. I have plenty of reasons to want to see changes in teacher certification.  With my two master’s degrees and teaching experience at eight colleges as well as work as a BOCES program coordinator in my home state of New York, it would take me longer to get a teaching certificate than to get a PhD. But throwing out the current program, wacky as I think it is, is not a good idea.

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