Sunday, March 23, 2008

Teacher Certification Must Promote Educational Quality by Akindele Akinyemi


Michigan’s current teacher certification system is shortchanging children in our public schools. It certifies too few teachers for important subject areas, such as mathematics and science – all but ensuring children will not be taught by qualified teachers.

Today, one of every five students in Michigan public schools is taught by a certified teacher who has little or no formal education in the subject area. This number is expected to grow as student enrollment rises two percent annually and one of two teachers flee the profession after five years on the job.

The growing number of certified teachers working outside the subject they are licensed to teach bares the fundamental problem of equating a certified teacher with a qualified teacher.

Over the past decade, empirical research has been very clear about this problem. There is no consistent valid research that demonstrates fully certified teachers, produced by traditional colleges of education, are more effective than teachers who come to the classroom through other means, according to the State Board of Education.

In fact, teacher effectiveness correlates better with deep subject area knowledge and verbal skills than with teacher certification.

Today, our state requirements for teacher certification neither produce nor ensure teacher quality. On the contrary, these requirements act as a bar to some highly qualified individuals who would like to teach. Michigan MUST begin to develop a way to create alternative teaching certification requirements. Here's why.

An all too common example is that of a successful businessman I recently met in Detroit. Holding a Ph.D. in Biology, he had worked with political and scientific leaders from around the world. Upon retirement, he decided a way to give back to Michigan was to pass on his knowledge and experience as a high school science teacher. He was told, despite his credentials, he needed to spend two years in college to learn how to be a teacher. He did that, passing the required tests with flying colors. He was then told he needed to spend a school year as a practice teacher. For this man, that proved too much and he dropped the idea. He lost nothing but some time. Students, though, lost the opportunity to learn at the feet of an amazing resource.

If the state certification system is to serve children, certification must be redefined and the barriers torn down. Proven teaching abilities that underwrite student success must be the sole basis for certification – subject area knowledge and good verbal skills. Current requirements, except those pertaining to student safety, should be eliminated. Full discretion should be given to school districts for hiring and orienting new teachers to meet their unique classroom needs.

Our state lawmakers here in Michigan must stop lying to people and get on with the business of educational reform. It's time to take a courageous step to refocus certification on the needs of students.

We must change teacher certification here in Michigan, employ the most highly qualified individuals as teachers, and give our children the best opportunity for educational success.

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