Hamilton Project: No More Certifications for Teachers?

I am reading through the policy papers on education, primarily focused on teachers, at the Hamilton Project website.  it is definitely an interesting read, and provided they could pass such legislation, could be of enormous benefit to the educational effectiveness of our nation’s infrastructure as a whole.

Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job

Traditionally, policymakers have attempted to improve the quality of the teaching force by raising minimum credentials for entering teachers. Recent research, however, suggests that such paper qualifications have little predictive power in identifying effective teachers.

I haven’t bothered to go as far as to read the entire paper on the subject, but the executive summary (PDF) lays out the plan pretty well. I will most likely reserve most of my opinion until I hear from someone truly qualified to speak on the issue: my lovely fiancee, who is a science teacher.

Nevertheless, since she’s sleeping, I’ll go ahead and give my first impressions. Certainly the NCLB schema is a mess in the first place, and one of the biggest problems is in the assumtion that teaching certification automatically bestows competence as a teacher. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least not as it works presently. It may suprise readers to note, as it did me, that you can go your entire college education without actually teaching. They call them “student teachers” but what those people really are is interns, and you can easily skip the internship until after most of your education is complete.

Can you imagine going through your entire college education (and all those student loans) only to find out that you hate teaching?

The proposal of the Hamilton Project is to eliminate the teaching certification as a prerequisite to becoming a teacher. Thier logic is that studys have shown that the certification means exactly crap. However, I would say that eliminating the certification requirement is probably a good short-term solution, but if you really want to improve the eduction of our children you would bolster the education of our teachers. That’s not to suggest that anyone who wants to become an educator should not be allowed to do so, but as long as there are people going through college to be teachers, it behooves us to make sure that they leave college with a decent education. That means student teaching and lots of it.

Expanding the role of student teaching in teacher education could have enormous benefits for two primary reasons. Firstly, would-be teachers who will not hack the role can find a way into something that they will be able to deal with before they become a burden on our children’s education. But beyond that, student teachers could help out in classrooms in greater numbers, thus decreasing the student-to-teacher ratio in schools without increasing costs since they don’t get paid.

There are a number of other provisions of this proposal, most of which strike me as good ideas. The one worrisome component is that it seems to suggest some type of metrics for evaluating teachers. This seems an invitation to an ass-whooping for teachers, though it is true that there needs to be some method of benchmarking if you are going to talk about real improvements to schools. The trouble is the murcurial nature of education: every child is different therefore every class is different, and so I’m not certain that you can expect the same results from the same teacher over a number of classes. Such things seem fodder for the Right’s continual attacks on public education.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.