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Statement of the Education Consumers Consultants Network Regarding the Abell Foundation's Recent Report:
"Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality."

Teacher Certification Isn't Working

October 18, 2001 - The Abell Foundation just released "Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality." It argues that Maryland's teacher certification requirements should be loosened or eliminated because there is no credible evidence that they ensure quality.

We agree. There is simply no good evidence that teacher certification produces demonstrable gains in student achievement. In fact, much of the research is embarrassingly deficient. A February 2001 report by the University of Washington Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy agrees: "There is no research that directly assesses what teachers learn in their pedagogical preparation and then evaluates the relationship of that pedagogical knowledge to student learning or teacher behavior."

Taking the opposite view is the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) led by Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. The Commission has been urging the states to adopt expanded certification requirements. Professor Darling-Hammond called the Abell Foundation's report a "stunning exercise in misrepresentation."

Policymakers who want a research-based consensus on this issue may have a long wait. There are hundreds of studies and a host of experts who have a stake in the outcome. We believe, however, that a different body of evidence can answer the broad question of whether teacher certification really works. It is evidence that is widely accessible and doesn't require technical interpretation.

States empower professions to certify and license their members for the purpose of protecting the public. Thus, we ask, has teacher certification served its purpose? Has the public been protected from unsound and ineffective practice?

We believe the evidence is voluminous and clear: It has not.

Parents do not want their children subjected to unproven educational practices any more than they would want them treated with untested medicines, yet for decades teachers have employed faddish practices. Fads present the very kind of risk from which parents and the public have supposed they were protected by teacher training and licensure. In truth, poorly tested and ineffective methodologies have been used time and again by certified teachers, working in fully accredited schools, and under the supervision of fully trained and certified administrators.

Numerous examples can be cited:

The education community aspires to professional standards like those in engineering and medicine; but engineers whose bridges collapse and doctors who employ unsound practices lose their licenses. Moreover, training programs that turn out inept practitioners lose their accreditation.

Professions that market their services directly to the public have a clear economic stake in maintaining quality and they act accordingly. However, schools hire teachers and schools are a regulated monopoly. Standard setting in the teaching profession is far less influenced by consumer satisfaction.

Rather than setting certification standards that ensure sound and effective practice, state education agencies follow the recommendations of interest groups such as NCTAF. In effect, the agencies responsible for defending the public's educational interests become captives of the institutions they regulate; and the standards they adopt become expressions of the education community's enthusiasms, not guidelines that protect the public.

The sensitivities of the state regulatory agencies are particularly evident in their approach to education's failures. When a plane crashes, the FAA investigates, fixes blame, and makes appropriate refinements in their regulations. When schools fail, poor parenting, bad neighborhoods, and stingy taxpayers are often blamed, but rarely are flawed standards, faulty training, or incompetent teachers. For example, when fads like "open education" become obvious failures, educators and regulatory officials may cease promoting them but they never disavow them. Rather they typically excuse their failure by suggesting that they would have worked had pupil-teacher ratios been lower, students better behaved, and the like. In other words, the fad may no longer be recommended but its flaws are never acknowledged and examined.

Professor Darling-Hammond will most likely continue to argue about the teacher certification literature but the larger conclusion is reasonably evident. If the kind of standards recommended by the education community were an effective means of ensuring teacher quality, the many rewrites of accreditation and certification standards over the past 50 years would have reduced the use of faddish innovation and increased the use of proven practice. Instead, the opposite has taken place. Highly controversial practices such as whole language reading instruction have been widely adopted and well-tested methodologies like Direct Instruction have been rejected on the grounds that they infringe on teacher creativity.

The kind of improvements in teacher quality wanted by the public will require that teacher performance and teacher training be judged, first and foremost, on the basis of demonstrated success in producing objectively measured student achievement gains--a value-added definition of teaching effectiveness. If teacher licensure and advanced certification standards remain in use, they must be based on such a criterion and applied by parties who will respect the public's aims and priorities.

The NCTAF is a self-appointed body of educators, teacher union officials, businessmen, and politicians that represents the education community's interests. It is urging the states to adopt regulatory mechanisms that would further insulate teacher standards from public control. The standards advocated by the NCTAF represent the thinking of the same education interest groups that have presided over teacher training and certification for the last 50 years. They are the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and the newly formed National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Their standards for teacher training, certification, and advanced practice were cooperatively developed and are seamlessly aligned.

The jury is still out on whether teacher certification standards should be loosened as the Abell Foundation recommends, but there is little doubt about what will happen if the NCTAF's recommendations are widely adopted: Teacher quality standards will continue to be aligned with the education community's interests and priorities.

The Education Consumers Consultants Network is an alliance of experienced and credentialed educators dedicated to serving the needs of parents, policymakers, and taxpayers for independent and consumer-friendly consulting. For a listing of members and their institutional affiliations, see