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Degrading Teacher Certification

Traditional teacher certification is hardly ideal, but it is a paragon compared with online, for-profit programs. A closer look at what is taking place in Texas leads to the inescapable conclusion that the alternative process has gone too far.

There are now more than 110 alternative teacher certification programs in the state ("For-Profit Certification for Teachers Is Booming," The New York Times, Nov. 27). These include both for-profits such as iteachTexas and A+Texas Teachers, as well as non-profits such as Teach for America, which turn out 40 percent of all new teachers in the state.

It is the online, for-profit programs, however, that warrant deepest concern. Offering certification in three months to two years, they have grown by 23 percent since 2003. (It should be noted, however, that the actual number of certificates granted has decreased since 2009.) These free-standing programs are not affiliated with any college or university in Texas. Despite the lack of empirical evidence about their effectiveness in preparing students for the classroom and the $4,000 they charge, they remain largely impervious to criticism.

Yet what is taking place in Texas was inevitable. Schools of education are partly to blame because of their long history of low admission standards and irrelevant curriculums that have not always prepared graduates for the demands of the classroom. In a recent news conference, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that nearly two-thirds of new teachers report feeling unprepared ("A Push to Improve Teachers' Colleges," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1).

But the situation is also the result of resentment about the power of teachers unions. A report in August by the National Center for Education Information explains why. It found that there are "striking differences between this non-traditional population of new teachers and teachers who enter teaching through undergraduate and graduate college campus-based teacher education programs, especially in attitudes concerning current proposed school reform measures and ways to strengthen teaching as a profession" ("The New Teachers," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 6, 2011).

One of the issues is the value of required courses in pedagogy. I agree that for too long excessive emphasis has been placed on pedagogy, but there's a big difference between knowing a subject well and knowing how to teach it well. For example, before Evan Hunter became famous as author of "The Blackboard Jungle," he taught English in a vocational high school in New York City. When asked in an interview years later why he quit after a short stint, he replied: "I was trying, but they weren't buying." Clearly, Hunter knew how to write, but that was not enough.

Teacher certification is in need of an overhaul, with Arizona State University serving as a promising model ("Nation's Biggest Teacher-Prep School Revamps Training," Education Week, Nov. 16). But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It seems to me that's what Texas is doing.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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