NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Certification Benefits Teachers, Not Students

October 2, 2003

As of 1999, 43 states required prospective teachers to pass a certification test. Proponents of testing say that it establishes minimum quality standards. Economists have long been skeptical of such claims, pointing out that there is little evidence that licensing requirements create benefits for consumers and quite a bit of evidence to suggest that they create barriers to entry that raise pay rates in the professions that they protect.

Co-authors Joshua Angrist and Jonathan Guryan estimate the effect of state teacher testing requirements on teacher wages and teacher quality. According to the authors:

  • Preparation for teacher certification tests is costly.
  • If private sector jobs with similar wages but less costly entry requirements are readily available, then the best applicants may choose those over public school teaching, lowering the average quality of the new teacher pool.

Using data from the Schools and Staffing Survey, the authors found state-mandated testing for teachers increases their wages by 3 to 5 percent but has no observable effect on their quality, as measured by the average SAT score of an individual teacher's undergraduate institution.

Consistent with their finding of no quality benefit from testing teachers, the authors point out that "while occupational licensing requirements are widespread and apparently increasing, most skilled workers in the private sector are still not subject to formal licensing or testing."

Source: Linda Gorman, "Teacher Certification Raises Salaries but not Quality," National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Digest, August 2003; based upon Joshua Angrist and Jonathan Guryan, "Does Teacher Testing Raise Teacher Quality? Evidence from State Certification Requirements," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. w9545, March 2003.

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