from educational Horizons Fall 1999

Thoughts on Alternative Certification
©2000 Gary K. Clabaugh

edited 9/2/11

See also, "Comparing Teaching to Other Occupations"

When there was a surplus of teachers, politicians ignored the opportunity to toughen teacher preparation. To the contrary, they sat idly by while colleges pushed through thousands of half-trained, half-committed, half-witted candidates in order to cash their parent's tuition checks.

Now that there is a growing scarcity of teachers, however, state officials race to weaken already wimpy state standards. Pennsylvania provides a particularly egregious example. In recent years keystone state officials repeatedly reduced the budget of the agency charged with overseeing teacher preparation. The gutted remains can't possibly enforce real rigor in teacher education. Which is precisely what they should be doing, because for years many Pennsylvania colleges have been shamelessly exploiting teacher preparation as a source of ready cash. Usually only a fraction of the tuition derived from these heavily enrolled programs is reinvested in their improvement. The rest is siphoned into things that really matter to college officials? varsity athletics or remodeling the President's residence come to mind.

Instead of remedying this situation, Governor Tom Ridge, (a Republican vice-presidential hopeful, by the way) recently made it much worse. In an announcement characterized by double-speak, he decreed a new, and preposterously easy, way into teaching. Ridge declared that those who think they might like to teach need only take a ten day summer seminar to qualify for their very own classroom. After no more than six credits of additional instruction in pedagogy they can be certified for life. How's that for standards?

Ridge says he wants to " local education agencies fill critical vacant positions in secondary or K-12 content areas with 'outstanding' candidates for eventual level I certification." Actually, he wants to fill teaching vacancies in the state's educational wastelands with whatever warm bodies can be found. He also wants to weaken the state's teachers unions, both of whom were smart enough to oppose his election.

Right-wingers, like Chester Finn, argue that many thousands would jump right into teaching if they didn't have to expend any effort to learn something about it. Besides, Finn asserts, kids taught by certified teachers don't do any better on achievement tests than those taught by scrubs. Here's what's wrong with this argument: