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?  


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: Home Schoolers in the Teacher Certification Debate

WorldNet Daily serves up this report on the home schooling community's stance on teacher certification (like I said, strange bedfellows).

As one might guess, many in the homeschooling community are skeptical of teacher certification laws, particularly when they stand in the way of educating one's own children. The "Myth of Teacher Qualifications," as the report dubs it, is a sort of intellectual defense for homeschoolers against state efforts to place certification rules on them. At present, the certification laws vary widely by state.

What strikes me about this report is the extent to which it reveals my own double standard. As opposed as I am to typical teacher certification requirements, I'm inclined to agree that the homeschooling community ought to live up to a certification standard of some sort. Whereas a public school student is, at any given time, under the influence of multiple administrators and teachers, a homeschooling student is much more dependent on the quality of 1-2 teachers. In this situation, the risks of gross underqualification are just too high. If states see fit to require rudimentary certification of some sort, I'm inclined to agree.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Update: Teacher Certification Reform in Connecticut

It what seems to have been an impressive fit of partisan bickering, Connecticut has officially failed to make some much needed reforms to its teacher certification process.

For details on the proposed changes, see this earlier post.

Update: At the last minute the legislature has reversed course, passed the certification reforms, and passed it on the the governor for signature!  

Here's to you, Connecticut General Assembly!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Teacher Certification Alternative in Michigan (but is it necessary?)

Continuing this week's spate of shout outs to states trying to increase their alternative certification offerings, I'd like to shine some light on Michigan's Non-Traditional Route to Teacher Certification.

The good news is that it seeks to bring people with non-education bachelor's degrees into the areas of education that most need them. The bad news is that there are apparently some good reasons to be skeptical of the plan. In brief: there's no demonstrated need for more such programs in the state, it's potentially redundant, and it doesn't set a very high standard for accrediting new programs.

For you Michiganders out there, it's time to weigh the pros and cons and make your voices heard!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Quality Teacher Certification Program in Florida

Given my frequent broad-stroke bashing of teacher education programs, I think it's only fair to share news of this University of Florida program, which is apparently doing great work.

For full coverage and more stories like it, be sure to check out Advancing the Teaching Profession.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Teaching Certification in Iowa - An New Alternative

Looks like Iowa has decided to get on the bus and make transitions to teaching a little easier. Iowans (or aspiring Iowans) out there should look into Iowa's new Intern License Program.

Alternative Certification in Pennsylvania

Governor Ed Rendell is asking the legislature to create a fast track certification program for math, science, engineering, and technology professionals (full story here).

The gist is that professionals could receive a "residency" certificate, good for three years, if they fulfilled the following criteria:

  1. A bachelor's, master's, or doctorate in a relevant subject area
  2. Work experience to complement the degree (less experience required for higher degrees)
  3. Completion of an intensive 4 month preparation program
  4. Mentorship during their first year of teaching

This sounds to me like a sensible and simple way to ease the transition into teaching. So, please, you Pennsylvanians out there, make your voices heard!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Education's Iron Triangle

This recent defense of traditional education programs, written by an expert from one such education program, highlights one of the fundamental problems in American education. In the present case, we have Dr. Thomas Brady purporting to offer an impartial and academic analysis of a system in which he and his institution hold a major financial stake. How can we possibly trust education schools to provide reasoned analysis our credentialing system, when it offers the only rationalization for their continued existence?

Though it gets less attention in Intro American Politics than the defense industry does, this dirty little triangle is a major impediment to reform. We have our powerful interest group - teachers unions - our trusted overseers - education schools - and our regulators in federal and state departments of education. Unions send a steady stream of their future members through ed schools, whose programs provide steady cash to their home institutions. These ed schools, in turn, provide intellectual support for a basically indefensible teacher certification system. This certification system, in turn, provides a raison d'etre for our sprawling education bureaucracy. How can anyone connected with this system have real incentive to blow the whistle on its inefficiencies?

Update: Okay, so I'm not the first to use the term for education. Though these folks and I seem to be speaking to different issues.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why All This Fuss About Teacher Certification?!

This came out a while ago, but it has interesting findings where this blog is concerned. Richard Ingersoll looks at teacher certification and the debates surrounding it. He points out that US teacher certification standards, though aggravating, are actually relatively light compared to both other professions and other countries' certification standards (full text here).

The basic question, according to Ingersoll, is not whether these standards are a problem, but why we care so much about teacher certification standards when lawyers, doctors, social workers and countless other professionals all face similarly burdensome requirements to enter their respective lines of work.

My main answer to Ingersoll is that teacher preparation programs are uniquely bad. Linda Darling Hammond recently put the number of high quality teacher preparation programs at "probably a quarter [of all programs]." Indeed, I have yet to meet a single teacher who has anything positive to say about their time in education classes. Lawyers and doctors certainly face similarly high bars to entering their professions, but their preparatory educational experiences are undeniably more positive.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

National Board Certified Teachers?

The Center for Teaching Quality reports that using National Board Certified Teachers is that answer. As they put it:

Our own research at the Center for Teaching Quality has taught us how powerful the certification process can be as a strategy in developing successful teachers in high-needs schools. We have also learned from National Board Certified Teachers, who describe the huge payoffs that come when teams of teachers sitting for the National Boards use their intensified focus on high standards to consider many teacher effectiveness issues that policy pundits overlook or do not fully understand.

This is, of course, not without its costs. For a sense of just how arduous the National Board Certification Process is, check out this link.

Connecticut Teacher Certification - Fumble on the Goal Line

That State of Connecticut was on the verge of some very rational reforms to its certification requirements, but the State Senate decided not to act.

The Hartford Courant summarizes the bill as follows:

The proposal would have made it easier for qualified professionals to make a mid-career shift and enter the teaching ranks. They still would have needed a teaching certificate but would no longer have had to take content-area classes on subjects they already know.

The measure would have taken effect in July, 2010. It also would have streamlined the certification process for teachers and administrators already certified in another state

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The California Teacher Certification of a Teach for America Corps Member

A Teach for America Corps member tells the story of her ongoing certification work.


As a first year teacher who was charged with teaching English Language Arts young minds straight after a degree in journalism and political science, I am tremendously thankful to Teach For America for guiding me along every hurdle. I was told when and where to take:

  1. the four CSET exams—in May right after graduation; bad idea to take them all in the same sitting but TFA sent me a test prep book and provided a bus for all of us first-year corps members,
  2. the CBEST—in June, leaving me in amazement that a person gets the okay to teach after clearing this test,
  3. and the Teaching Foundations Exam—in August, right after five weeks of summer institute in Watts. This test involved driving for two hours in the early morning from Long Beach to a place called San Bernardino, but institute prepared us well for this test, and evidently it saved us from a slew of pedagogy classes, a strategy I quickly adopted—clear any test that will get me out of taking more of those classes.

After clearing these tests, I enrolled in classes to obtain my preliminary teaching credential. This process entailed attending three-hour long biweekly, and later monthly, sessions with a group of teachers who taught various subjects and classes. I dutifully made the trip after ten hours of teaching, but I was not a good student nor an active participant, and I used all my excused absences. At the same time, I never felt particularly guilty, because the whole program was run by a small, unknown university and tailored to fit the needs of TFA folks. It was a slight discomfort to type out 25-30 pages of Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) reports three times over the year, but I learned that I earned the same grade regardless of the effort I put in, so I went a few notches higher on my level of apathy. I also passed a technology test (yes, it allowed me to skip a whole semester of technology class) for which I was shockingly unprepared, but I managed with the help of Google and my memory that dug out nuggets of information from an 8th grade computer class.

In the end, the whole ordeal was not that harrowing. I received my credential, my Americorps reward from TFA covered the entire tuition, and I met some admirable educators. The most useful aspect of the program was being assigned a field supervisor, a mentor of sorts, who observed and visited me every two weeks. From what I hear, this assignment is a matter of luck, and I got excessively lucky with mine, who was kind, knowledgeable and supportive. Even the educators who ran our seminars and workshops are truly good teachers, but the entire program is set up in a way that makes every task just another step in going through the motions.

Minnesota Teacher Certfication - Alternative Programs on the Horizon?

Seems someone in the Minnesota House had a simple plan to provide teacher certification to those who didn't want to go through a traditional education program. It didn't make it into the final bill, but the senate is considering it.

The gist:

The proposal would allow an eligible college, university or nonprofit to sponsor intensive teacher training programs for college graduates with high GPAs. Participants would complete a minimum 200-hour prep course, work with a mentor and be required to pass skills exams and other tests.

You Minnesotans out there, get on the phone to your State Senator!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

California Teacher Certfication Story - Earning a Credential While Teaching

A California teacher describes his time in teacher training classes...

During my first year of teaching, I found a way to teach and receive my credential at the same time. I enrolled in a preliminary credential program which required a weekly meeting of 3 hours each. During class, I would have to sit through stories of teachers frustrated with their schools, colleagues, and even students. I doubt most of those new teachers had the desired passion and dreams to teach because they obviously didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into. So I would go to class with student work to grade and lessons to plan. At the end of each semester, I was required to do two teaching performance assessments (TPA), which were supposedly used to determine whether I knew how to modify my curriculum and teach ELLs and special-needs students. I usually start my TPAs the night before they’re due and it took me about 2-3 hours to fill out 20 pages of nonsense.

After I received my preliminary credential, I was told that it was not renewable and I had 5 years to complete a two-year induction program to clear it. So in my third year of teaching, I am in an induction program where I have to meet with a group for 3 hours once a month, meet with my coach twice a month, and turn in homework assignments to show my growth as a teacher. None of it is much different from the preliminary program, except I’m only required to attend class once a month instead of once a week. Next year, I will be teaching AP Calculus and hopefully be able to clear my credential and be done with it all. The only problem is that I doubt my mentor will be able to do much to help me prepare my students for their AP exams. I’m sure it won’t be so different from the last two years.

More on the trouble in Massachusetts...

Eduwonk offers a good back and forth on the issue of Massachusetts teachers and their failure on the new math test. The massive failure is an embarrassment, clearly, but the question is for who: the teachers who failed, the programs that claimed to have prepared them, or the state that is choosing to deny itself that many more qualified teachers?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

...To California (Part Two)

A teacher formerly of Massachusetts, now of California, tells part II of her story...

After a year in Massachusetts [see From Boston (Part One)], I decide to move to California where I have to start all over again with certification because there's no transfer of provisional/step 1 type licensure. I end up having to take two new math proficiency tests to obtain a temporary license. I then take a few additional tests to enroll at Alliant University to gain teacher certification in California, and an intern license which allows me to teach for a year. I then obtain an initial license (step 2 license) at the end of my program. That milestone is finally at the end of my fifth year of teaching.

I thought I was done with certification programs and tests. However I find out in the fall of my sixth year of teaching that I will need to complete 2 years of beginning teacher's classes that are comparable in content to the very certification program I had just completed. I went through with it for about five months when I simply burned out from the whole process. I was deeply upset that all my years of teaching had afforded me no higher standing then a first year teacher in the eyes of the Department of Education, and that I had to resort to coursework that was added to my already demanding 60 hour work week. All said, it would mean I would not gain my teaching clear until my seventh year of teaching was completed.

8 years since I graduated college, and I've racked up:
7 years of teaching
3 math proficiency tests.
2 multiple subject tests
3 communication skills tests
4 earlier step teaching licenses
1 year of graduate school in education administration
1 year of a teacher certification program
.5 years of beginner teacher classes
0 professional licenses.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teacher Certficaton Tests in Massachussets - Something Doesn't Add Up!

Seems there's trouble with the aspiring math teachers in Massachusetts. I wonder how many of them were education majors?

From Boston... (Part One)

A teacher formerly of Massachusetts, now of California, tells her story...

Although I was a psychology major, I had no interest in becoming a psychologist. During my junior year at BU, I began considering what steps I needed to take to become a teacher instead. I knew I wasn't interested in elementary school and was leaning more toward middle/high schools, thus I perused the Massachusetts Certification requirements for teaching psychology and the social sciences as a whole. You could not enroll in a teacher certification program teaching psychology, but you could for sociology. I had enough room in my schedule to double major, so I decided I'd do that. (In addition to passing a subject matter proficiency test, Massachusetts also requires that you either major or take at least ten classes in the subject you plan on teaching.)

Fall of senior year rolls around, and Massachusetts makes a decision to no longer offer certification in sociology. Unable to find a job, I end up going to graduate school in education policy to buy some time to decide what to do next. Although I wanted to teach in the inner-city, I could not do so because I was not certified and I lacked experience. Thus after my masters, I end up going to a parochial school out in the affluent Wellesley suburb of Boston. After two years there, I figure I have enough experience to attempt a position at a charter school, which I ended up doing, becoming a math teacher at a Boston Charter School. While there, I take and pass all the necessary proficiency tests to teach under a provisional license, one that expires after 5 years if I don't work my way to a professional license (which is contingent on passing at least ten classes in the subject matter.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New York Teacher Certfication Story - Earning Certification Without Student Teaching (It's Tricky!)

On of the lingering frustrations of my own certification saga has been the fall out of my decision not to student teach. Having been hired to teach private school at age 22, without formal certification, I simply started teaching.

This was all well and good, until I decided to switch over to the public system. At this point, there was a problem. Most Masters programs in teaching involve student teaching, which I didn't need. The good news is that New York State does allow waivers to student teaching. The not so good news is that if one does not student teach with a Masters program, the State of New York insists on evaluating your case individually, rather than simply allowing your graduate program to approve it. This may sound like a minor detail, but it amounts to a major roadblock: an individual transcript evaluation takes something on the order of 16-19 weeks, while a graduate approved one takes 3 weeks or so. This, it seems, was my reward for opting to switch into the system as a certified teacher - 16 weeks more wait time and no assistance from my graduate institution in applying for certification.

New York Private School to New York Public School: A Teacher Certification Travesty

There was a time when I was a happy but angst ridden private school teacher. Teaching is teaching and kids are, ever and always, just kids. And so, guilt about the injustice of it all aside, I was quite happy meeting the daily challenge of trying to offer a genuine education. Still, the years passed, and my guilt grew, and I decided that enough was enough - I needed to become a public school teacher.

At this point, I had a BA in History from a top college, four years of successful teaching at an accredited private school, a newly acquired MA in Teaching from Teachers College, and the enthusiastic support of all of my supervisors. So it was with great disappointment that I left my first meeting with the certification specialists at the New York Board of Education, having been informed that I was deficient in several ways:

  • I needed 3 more credits in the teaching of reading
  • I needed 3 more credits in basic math
  • I needed written proof that my MA in teaching was, in fact, related to teaching
  • I ALMOST needed 3 credits in music, but I was saved by the recorder lessons I had taken on a lark during my junior year at college
I was, like I said, angst ridden in the private school world, and I had gone to the trouble of the Masters. I certainly was not going to let these last obstacles stand in my way. And, so, in addition to the nearly 30K I had shelled out for my masters, I invested in the following:

  • Approximately $500 for credits by examination in basic math
  • Approximately $500 for credits by examination in basic reading education
  • $40 for written evidence of my success, as a high school senior, in BC calculus
And so it was that, after 6 years of higher education, 4 years of successful full-time teaching, and a handful of post-graduate credits at top notch online universities, I found myself worthy, in the eyes of New York State, of a preliminary teaching credential.