Monday, July 21, 2008

Reform Teacher Certification in Michigan by Akindele Akinyemi

Michigan’s 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 three to 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 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. I never understood why people would brag about a certificate when they have to renew it in five years as compared to someone who receives their P number in the legal field and never have to take another bar test again in life. Laws make it hard for teachers to be real effective in the educational field.

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. Although Michigan has in place an alternative teaching certification system this alternative offers little flexibility and innovation. In fact, it is so political that they do not even use it. And what about the number of educational leaders that can actually run a school but cannot even get hired because they do not have a teacher certification requirement?

An all too common example is that of a successful Black businessman I recently met in Detroit. Holding a doctorate degree in engineering, he had worked with political and economic leaders from around the world. Upon retirement, he decided a way to give back to Detroit 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.

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

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