- Many states, including North Carolina, are suffering from a teacher shortage
- Teaching certificates are a barrier to entry for teachers, making it more difficult for people to enter the profession
- The evidence is mixed, however, that the certification process improves teaching quality
Written by Tyler Bonin
Across the United States, the number of incoming college students seeking a career in education has been in steady decline over the last several decades. This trend also correlates with teachers leaving the profession, thus leading to a subsequent teacher shortage in many states, including North Carolina.
Richard Ingersoll, professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that a main reason why teachers are leaving the profession is dissatisfaction. Specifically, Ingersoll notes that teachers lack autonomy, are bound by a rigid testing regime, and are increasingly micromanaged. These are all elements of an inflated educational bureaucracy that subjects teachers to bureaucratic diktat.
In order to overcome teacher shortages, some state legislatures (including California) have eased certification requirements. Commenting on the Kansas legislature’s move to waive teaching restrictions in order to mitigate severe teacher shortages in the state, Mark Farr, president of the Kansas National Education Association, stated that this was both an attempt to de-professionalize the teaching profession and “…circumvent collective bargaining and regulations designed to ensure fairness, safety and quality.” Farr is not alone in this view.
Criticism such as this brings us to several larger questions.
Does teacher certification necessarily mean teaching efficacy? Evidence of teacher certification improving educational outcomes is mixed. For instance, in a study of certification requirements’ impact on teacher quality, Angrist (MIT) and Guryan (University of Chicago) note that “on balance, our results are reasonably consistent with the view that testing has acted more as a barrier to entry than a quality screen.”
Furthermore, in a recent study from the Brookings Institution, Brian Jacob notes that both teacher certification and tenure have demonstrated themselves to be inadequate predictors of teacher success. His study outlined other measures (as viewed through the interview process) to be more consistent predictors of teacher success.
The attainment of a teaching certification is both a lengthy and costly process for those seeking to enter the profession. If the effect on educational outcomes associated with teaching certification is negligible, then it is safe to assume that the process presents a barrier to entry that is costly both for those seeking a profession in teaching and for society at large. Furthermore, teaching certification fails to account for both hard-to-quantify intangibles, such as enthusiasm for one’s subject, as well the rigor of one’s undergraduate and graduate education.
So, do measures by state legislatures to waive teacher certification requirements necessarily lead to “de-professionalization” of teaching? Can a person with a rigorous academic background and a history of positive student engagement be considered to “de-professionalize” teaching if he or she seeks to enter the field without a certification?
Many newly minted PhDs with undergraduate teaching experience are failing to enter K-12 education because of the certification process, which may often take two years of student teaching and additional coursework. There’s nothing like completing more than five years of graduate school just to be told by the state that you need more education in order to teach your subject, or to more fully understand the student experience.
What is even more telling is the move by many state legislatures to ease certification requirements being met with a national backlash that this will hinder teachers’ collective bargaining ability. This fact alone underscores the teaching certificate’s true purpose: a barrier to entry, intended to protect its holders by limiting competition.
Charter schools have traditionally had more freedom in hiring teachers without certification. Has this lack of vetting restrictions for teaching candidates created a negative outcome in charter school classrooms? A quick look at the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of schools in North Carolina demonstrates that three of the top-five ranked schools in North Carolina are charter schools. Moreover, myriad private schools hire teachers without regard to certification. Nevertheless, this leads to a final question with far-reaching implications.
Even if states continue to eliminate teaching certifications as hiring requirements in order to overcome shortages, will these teachers stay? What of teacher dissatisfaction? Again, it is helpful to look at charter and private schools for this question. Discretion in hiring is one element of the larger autonomy enjoyed at these schools. Teachers enjoy greater latitude in curriculum decisions at charter and private schools. They also enjoy having a voice that matters in decisions that directly affect their classroom. They enjoy the opportunity to be treated like true professionals, by way of autonomy and not simply by attainment of a piece of paper.
Reducing barriers to entry such as waiving certification requirements is one way states like North Carolina can help to reduce bureaucracy in the profession and also address the need for more high quality teachers in the classroom.
Tyler Bonin is a contributor to Civitas