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The Irony of Teacher Licensing

At a time when states from coast to coast have added new licensing requirements for jobs that would seem in little need - such as florists, interior designers and upholsterers - it's easier than ever for teachers to get a license to teach ("Moving to Arizona Soon? You Might Need a License," The New York Times, Jun. 18).  For example, billboards on Texas highways two years ago asked: "Want to teach? When can you start?" ("Efforts to Raise Teacher Certification Standards Falter," The Texas Tribune, Aug. 22, 2014). 

Alternative routes to licensing for teachers may seem like a good way to alleviate teacher shortages in certain fields, but I maintain that they promise more than they can deliver.  I say that despite the study by Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler finding that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with an alternative pathway posted greater gains on NAEP than did students in other states ("The 'Certified' Teacher Myth," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2008). I view the result as an outlier.

There is much too much on the line when the education of young people is involved to relax entry standards.  Yet supporters argue that traditional state certification rules exist only to restrict the supply of teachers.  That argument will appeal to privateers who want to reduce teaching to a service industry.  But how can teachers be successful if they have not mastered basic pedagogy?  I don't care how knowledgeable they are and how much experience in the private sector they have.  That's not enough to make for effectiveness in the classroom.  If that were not so, then university professors would be outstanding high school teachers.

Let's overhaul how teachers are prepared for the realities of the classroom by eliminating theoretical classes and replacing them with earlier clinical experience under the close supervision of master teachers.  But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater by adopting loose alternative pathways.

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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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