by Jonathan Small
President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA)We continue to see news stories about “emergency” certifications for teachers who didn’t take the traditional certification route to get a teaching license. But are we getting the full story? Let’s start right here: “In contrast to other professions, studies show that certification has next to no effect on teacher performance,” writes University of Arkansas education professor Robert Maranto. “Instead it’s a rote exercise providing the mere appearance of professionalism.” Dr. Maranto, who also serves on the Fayetteville school board, says there’s a reason elite prep schools (attended by the likes of Barack Obama and both Presidents Bush) hire uncertified teachers.
“The general consensus is that the empirical research does not find evidence of educational value—at all—to teacher certification requirements,” adds education researcher Greg Forster. “These arbitrary and educationally useless requirements do nothing to improve educational quality, and much to hinder schools’ ability to hire teachers.”Indeed, Forster says, “one review of the evidence by a team at the Brookings Institution produced a chart plotting three lines: math scores of students whose teachers had traditional certification, alternative certification, and no certification. The lines overlap almost perfectly; there’s virtually no difference.” We see it here at home. Nick Henderson left a career in the oil and gas industry and got an “emergency” certification to teach math in the Millwood school district. His superintendent “said the test scores of students in his eighth-grade class were higher than the same class taught by a fully certified teacher in her school,” The Oklahoman reported last year.
“The alternative certifications that do occur in Oklahoma have been misleadingly labeled ‘emergency’ certifications,” Forster says, “but the only emergency in sight is a teacher-certification system so deeply dysfunctional that lots of schools have to find ways around it.”Whether the issue is health care or welfare or education, special-interest groups and liberal journalists are always eager to peddle some new “emergency” that requires higher taxes and more government spending.
“Oklahoma’s education establishment and click-addicted media benefit from public hysteria about a ‘teacher shortage’ and ‘emergency certifications,’” Forster says.But parents and taxpayers deserve better than endless pearl-clutching about “emergency” certifications. They deserve the full story about the effectiveness of traditional certification. It’s time for journalists to dig a little deeper. Ask the local superintendents—indeed, ask the state superintendent—what the empirical evidence tells us about the effectiveness of traditional teacher certification. If traditional certification is all it’s cracked up to be, ask them why the majority of Oklahoma students lack proficiency in nearly every subject. Indeed, that’s the real emergency.
Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs