Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Call for Alternative Certification in North Dakota

From The Grand Forks Herald, in a story nominally about Teach for America, comes this call for alternative certification in the Peace Garden State.

One roadblock could be the state’s few alternative methods of teacher certification. The National Center for Alternative Certification tracks such methods, the most sweeping of which lets, say, math or physics Ph.D’s teach in a public school without studying at a teacher’s college. But clicking on North Dakota on the center’s Web site returns this result:

“North Dakota is not currently implementing any alternative teacher certification routes.”

That’s a problem where Teach for America is concerned.

“The South Dakota Department of Education has created an alternative certification program designed specifically for Teach For America corps members,” Teach for America reports. Given the success that Teach for America has had in helping to close the nation’s “achievement gap,” North Dakota’s Education Standards and Practices Board should do the same.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment here, I don't see the need to marry it to TFA. As the various fellows programs out there demonstrate, we have plenty of professionals that don't fit the TFA mold who we'd be lucky to rush into our classrooms. Moreover, with the economy in its present state, we have the opportunity to bring a whole group of untraditional teachers into the profession. Whatever TFA's wishes might be, North Dakota ought to establish a route of alternative certification.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Improving Teacher Education Programs

Good news for the quality of teacher education programs: the NCATE, which accredits about half of the schools of education nationwide, has issued new standards for reaccreditation. Under the new plan, schools can reaccredit in one of two ways:

  1. Commit to raising their performance level on one of NCATE's six performance strands
  2. Undertake a major research project on methods of improving teacher preparation

In light of what we know about the general quality of teacher education programs (it's not high), these are welcome steps. In the end, it is the quality of these traditional teacher education programs, where the vast majority of teachers are still spending their time and money, that will determine the quality of our teacher workforce.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alternative Certification Opportunity in Oklahoma

For you Oklahomans out there with pedagogical aspirations, keep an eye out for an opportunity this summer. In addition to the TFA folks that are arriving this year, Oklahoma has invited the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence to town. Tulsa World reports it as follows:

The second program — the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence — has the promise of bringing mid-career college graduates who didn't major in education into classrooms. It could be a means of bolstering the state's teacher ranks with real-world-experience people displaced by the recession or looking for a career change.

Participants have to pass the same subject testing as education college graduates — would-be math teachers have to pass the math test, for example — and ABCTE provides its participants with online pedagogy training so they also can pass the teaching methods tests.

(ABCTE will be in Tulsa later this summer recruiting would-be teachers for its 180-hour workshop program, which costs about $975. Participants have to pay another $950 for a first-year mentoring program after they are hired.)

Update: Alternative Certification in Pennsylvania

This first surfaced a few weeks ago, but here are some updated details on Ed Rendell's plans to ease teacher certification in Pennsylvania (for teachers in shortage areas only).

If you think certification does more harm than good - which I tend to - you can't help but like this plan. It swaps a 2-4 year program out and replaces it with what is essentially a 4-month intro to teaching. In a perfect world, is this the way I would do it? No. But, given the choice between keeping up the status quo and bringing fresh minds into our classrooms, I'll take this.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Proceed with Caution on School Closings

Though I generally hesitate to stray too far from the issue of teacher certification, the buzz around shutting down failing schools has me concerned.

Lately, I've been struck by the burst of folks calling for more school closures:

What bothers me about this calls is not that they are incorrect. Indeed, where education reform is concerned I long ago gave up on such easy labels. No, what bothers me here is the recklessness and lack of humility with which these calls are being issued. Closing failing schools may be the answer in some cases, but the notion that it is "the option," as Smarick suggests, is simply going too far.

For it to be THE option, we would need to know that students would have good charter schools to go to. But recent studies show us that bad charter schools may well outweigh good ones. Likewise, it might be THE option if data on the impact of switching schools weren't as muddled as it is. But there is simply too much uncertainly around the effects of closing schools and switching students around to pretend that the decision is so simple.

I'm not suggesting I have the answer here, but I join Duncan in recognizing that school turnarounds require a variety of approaches. In the absence of convincing data that show a uniformly salutary effect in school closings, I would ask that we proceed with the greatest of caution.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Student Quality in Teacher Education Programs: What GRE Data Tells Us

While I'm not a regular reader of the Indianapolis Business Journal, I was intrigued by this recent article on student quality in teacher education programs.  The Journal looked at students entering undergraduate education majors as well as those beginning graduate education programs.  Included were three interesting findings:

  • Education majors in Indiana colleges and universities ranked roughly 5% lower than their peers in other majors, based on SAT scores
  • Based on GRE scores nationwide, those entering elementary education graduate programs are roughly 8% below their peers in other fields
  • Based on the same nationwide GRE scores, those entering secondary education graduate programs are roughly 10% above their peers in other fields

Where teacher certification is concerned, there are multiple conclusions to be drawn from data like this.  On the one hand, it suggests we need more rigorous certification standards.  If education is attracting less than stellar minds, we need to do what we can to see that only the deserving make it into the classroom.  Data like this, along with the recent debacle on the Massachusetts math tests, show us the harsh truth: if certification was easier, we'd have law quality students becoming teachers.  

This said, I tend to draw a different conclusion from such data.  I see here further proof of the culture of education programs.  They are, quite rightly, regarded as unchallenging and undesirable by the best students.  We could change this problem from the bottom up, by trying to recruit more high quality students into education programs, or we could go at it from the top down, using a TFA/Teachers Fellows approach, where we bring high quality individuals into the classroom and let them give education a new face.  If we follow this line of reasoning, we need to continue pushing for alternative certification programs and other methods of getting high quality individuals into our classrooms quickly. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Teacher Certification and the Rhee Firings

Late last week, DC School Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee fired 250 teachers for a mix of poor performance and certification problems.  Details are still flowing in as to the exact numbers, but from what I can gather approximately 110 the teachers in question were dismissed on account of being uncertified.  

I'm particularly interested in hearing more details from Rhee and others as to the 110 with certification problems.  Were these teachers who were otherwise solid, or was "certification" simply a useful technicality to pink slip poor teachers?  Were these really the only 110 uncertified teachers in DC?  If not, what standard was used to pick these 110?