In a New York Times “Room for Debate” feature on teacher certification, an Alexandria, Virginia English teacher named Patrick Welsh unwittingly presents, in one clear paragraph, the problem with the Obama Administration’s educational policies.
“The credentialing game in public education may have once been a well-meaning effort to create some measurable criteria to maintain standards, but it has turned into an absurd process that forces both teachers and administrators to waste time jumping through hoops that have little or no relation to their job performance.”
Welsh, a Washington Post Blogger often deeply frustrated with educational change (he openly worries about schools with “too much technology”) is writing to oppose teacher certification requirements and – by extension – teacher training in and of itself. He spells out his hoped for situation: “A good start to ensure that schools get the best people in the classrooms would be to stop filtering candidates through personnel offices obsessed with education courses and “certification,” and allow individual schools to advertise for the positions they need, and then allow principals along with panels of teachers to hire enthusiastic candidates who exhibit knowledge and love of their subject and a passion for communicating that knowledge and love to students.”
The fact that Welsh can quote only a couple of locally observed anecdotes in defense of his position while others in the debate – taking the other side – can back their positions up with data is not the problem for the Obama administration. The problem is simply that Arne Duncan is taking opposite sides in the same debate: On hand he is arguing that teacher credentialing is unimportant, that traditional paths to teaching are no longer valid, that testing of new teachers for certification no longer has a place. Yet, his other hand is insisting on the most traditional measures of student achievement and teacher evaluation. Anyone with “enthusiasm” and “knowledge” can become a teacher in Duncan’s view, but every student must jump through annual hoops and certify themselves on achievement tests or both the student and his or her teacher fail. A funhouse mirror of education policies.
Which is it Mr. Obama? Are standardized tests and standardized curricula valid? Is it essential that all students attend a certain amount of school before they can claim some sort of certification? Or should a student be able to simply prove that they are “enthusiastic” and “exhibit knowledge”? Do I need to attend Mr. Welsh's classes at T.C. Williams High School or may I just read and write on my own until I satisfy my own preparatory needs for university?
Put another way, how do you tell a student that they must complete a specific set of courses, send a specific number of hours, days, years in school, pass a certain test – if that student’s teachers have had to do none of that in order to hold their present position?
Or in its most simple form – the argument for alternative certification for teachers, and the argument for “outsider run schools” (Charters), are clearly arguments for less standardization in school curricula and school assessment. The argument is that “school” – as we now understand it – is not the appropriate place to learn for many of our students – whether those are K-12 students or future educators. That standardized curricula, evaluations, and assessments are bad preparation for life and bad measures of capability - again, for K-12 students or future educators.
As for me – I believe in alternative teacher certification just as I believe in alternative educational opportunities for all students. And I believe in high expectations – for K-12 students and for new teachers – but I put little faith in industrial standards, whether those be the standards for a high school diploma (Did you come to class often enough? Did you do enough homework to make your algebra teacher happy?), a college degree (Did you click enough times in your Intro to Sociology lecture?), a PhD (Have you mastered APA Style, or is MLA?), or a teacher certification (Are you very good at sitting for very long tests?).
But I also know that teaching is the most important profession a society has. And I know that after a very selective, very extensive, and very expansive five-year program of teacher education, our Michigan State University College of Education grads are still often missing a great deal of information we wish we could find time to get in. Learning to be a great teacher is just a difficult thing. Why anyone would imagine you could become a great teacher in fewer years than you would need to become a great doctor is beyond my understanding.
So I want better teacher education programs. I want more flexible teacher education programs. I want teacher education programs more adapted to the diverse needs of the diverse people we want to attract into teaching. And I want teacher education programs with much more time spent in actual K-12 classrooms.
Just as I want better public schools. More flexible public schools. Public schools not tied to standardized tests and public schools with diverse choices meeting the needs of diverse learners. And I want public schools more firmly connected to the world our students live and learn in.
But my goal is not to eliminate either teacher training or public schools. Eliminating those institutions will not make either better – and eliminating either or both will not improve education at all.
- Ira Socol
- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
- Today's "School Reformers" vs Real Change for Education - I
- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children