NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 15, 2008

According to a Harvard University study, traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of "certified" teachers and hinder student learning.  Comparing states that have genuine alternative certification with those that have it in name only, researchers found that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with a real alternative pathway to teaching gained more on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) -- a federal standardized test -- than did students in other states, says the Wall Street Journal.

For example:

  • In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively.
  • In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels respectively.

However, the study undermines the arguments from colleges of education and teacher unions, which say that traditional certification is the only process that can produce quality teachers, says the Journal:

  • Loosening certification rules can help alleviate teacher shortages, and broader recruitment paths can address shortages, particularly among minority teachers who are in especially short supply.
  • For example, in Mississippi, 60 percent of the more than 800 teachers who were alternatively certified in 2004-05 were minorities, even though the overall teaching force in the state is only 26 percent minority.
  • Unions claim that traditional certification serves the interests of students, but it's clear that students would be better served if the teaching profession were open to more college graduates.

Furthermore, far from regulating teacher quality, forcing prospective teachers to take a specific set of education-related courses merely deters college graduates who might otherwise consider teaching.  That outcome may serve the goals of labor unions, but it's hard to see how it helps the kids.  If we want better teachers and more of them, relaxing certification standards would be a good place to start, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "The 'Certified' Teacher Myth," Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2008; and Paul E. Peterson and Daniel Nadler, "What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certification?" Education Next (Hoover Institution), Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 2009.

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