The Teachers We Need Vs. the Teachers We Have
We live in an era of linguistic manipulation. The phrase Highly Qualified Teacher, conspicuous in the election platforms and ensuing legislation of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, originally referred to the idea that every American child deserves a great teacher. Unfortunately, Highly Qualified Teacher has lost its veracity.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers in America today are considered highly qualified, though they have never been prepared in the art and science of teaching, have never interacted with real children, and have never received guidance from an expert teacher.
Consider the organization that calls itself the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. First of all, ABCTE is a business, not a board; secondly, this business has nothing to do with excellence. Rather, ABCTE is a profit-seeking enterprise that offers certification for a negotiable fee ($100 off with coupon). ABCTE does not provide an education nor does it require prospective teachers to gain experience in a classroom. Rather, ABCTE offers an expensive test, which it creates and which it alone evaluates.
ABCTE, which has been voted into law as a legitimate avenue to teacher certification in nine states, could never emerge in countries such as Singapore or Finland, whose tight control over teacher preparation precludes the possibility that a business’s profitability could supercede the best interests of children.
In the bibliography for this book, you will find data cited from seemingly innocuous sources that sound like governmental agencies. The National Center for Educational Information, for example, is close enough to The National Center for Education Statistics in name to be its governmental cousin. In fact, The National Center for Educational Information is an organization whose mission is to promote the expansion of alternative certification programs throughout the nation.
NCEI advocates doing away with course work, fieldwork, and university-based teacher preparation. Although course work, fieldwork, and mentoring are expected of doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, plumbers, and policemen, NCEI does not consider such preparation necessary for prospective teachers.
The National Center for Educational Information sponsors annual conferences on the myriad advantages of cheap and easy alternative certification programs and the evils of lengthy, intensive, university-based preparation. Incredibly, faculty from some Wal-Mart-influenced campuses have started presenting papers at NCEI’s annual conventions, and attendance at their conferences has been on the rise.
Because their perspective is obviously biased, data and reports promulgated by NCEI must be viewed with great skepticism. Yet, a close investigation of statistics about alternative certification published on the U.S. Department of Education’s website reveals that much of the information has been provided by NCEI.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is another organization that promotes alternative certification while attempting to masquerade as an objective, research-focused agency. The similarity of the name of the National Council on Teacher Quality to the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is no coincidence.
Whereas NCATE advocates rigorous standards for teachers, including a full-semester or longer of student teaching and challenging and relevant course work, NCTQ advocates a student teaching experience of a few weeks and limited course work. Unsurprisingly, the president of NCTQ is an alternatively certified teacher who started the first alternative certification program in Maryland. Chester Finn, who sits on the board of directors of the NCTQ also happens to be the President of ABCTE.
Thus, two organizations (NCEI and NCTQ) who provide the federal government and state agencies with data on alternative certification are also dependent upon the continuing proliferation of alternative certification for their survival. Given this reality, it seems unlikely that either NCEI or NCTQ will ever have anything negative to say about alternative certification.
Let’s review the facts. The Chief Executive Officer of a business that provides alternative certification for a fee (Chester Finn, of ABCTE) is on the board of directors of the organization that provides the reports (NCTQ) that promote the benefits of alternative certification. Not only has the federal government failed to launch an independent evaluation of teacher quality, it has relied upon NCEI and NCTQ to provide data about the quantity and quality of alternatively-certified teachers.
When a wolf is appointed to guard the sheep, one must expect that casualties will be heavy. As teacher certification across the United States has gotten easier, quicker, and more profitable for the wolves, the sheep have started disappearing.
Eventually, one would hope that the rationale upon which the alternative certification business empire has been built—that unprepared, inexperienced students with poor academic records are somehow superior to well-prepared, experienced teachers with stellar academic records—will not stand. However, this is precisely the logic that has molded teacher preparation policy in the United States since the late twentieth century.
American children deserve more. They deserve teachers with specialized training in teaching specific content to a particular age group. They deserve to have teachers with diverse, extended experiences with teaching real children. They deserve teachers who will be mentored in their early years by expert teachers and Ph.D.s who understand what it takes to be an effective teacher. They deserve intelligent, creative, empathetic teachers who can help them love as well as learn the material.
In the United States, it takes 5-6 years of work and study to be able to handle pipes and 5-8 years of work and study to be able to handle dead bodies. But, it only takes 5 weeks, sometimes less, to become a teacher of children.
5-6 years for pipes.
5-8 years for the dead.
5 weeks for children.
It is inconceivable that a country that has prided itself on equality and opportunity has relinquished control over the education of its children to unskilled, untrained strangers. At the beginning of the 21st century, it is to our shame that the education of our children has come to mean so little.