Be very careful with teacher licensing

  • Article by: LISA M. JONES and MISTY SATO
  • Updated: February 15, 2011 - 8:02 PM

Before promoting alternative paths, know what the impact might be.

Commentary

The next generation depends on our ability to provide an adequate supply of effective teachers.

We must be assured that all teachers entering the classroom have the knowledge, skills and commitment to engage our children in meaningful learning experiences -- all of our children.

With pending legislation that would allow teachers to be licensed through "alternative routes," we must ask: Are we taking risks with our children's futures?

If the state wants to add more flexibility to the system, let's make sure this legislation will not lower standards.

A core issue is whether all teachers will be held to a set of common, high standards.

Will some children be subject to teachers who have taken shortcuts -- less time preparing, less knowledge about teaching and learning, potentially less adequate knowledge of the subjects they will teach, less time being mentored?

We must be cautious about setting up further inequities in our educational system. Will parents in affluent suburbs and parents from our struggling urban schools seek out teachers from an alternative license program at the same rates?

The rhetoric promoting alternative teacher licensure focuses on attracting a different kind of person into teaching than those who pursue traditional programs.

Policymakers cry out for the "best and the brightest" to enter teaching through fast-tracked alternative routes.

However, according to the Minnesota Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the average grade-point average of teacher education candidates admitted to Minnesota programs is 3.31 for undergraduate programs and 3.53 for graduate programs.

School districts are also seeking to diversify the teaching work force. Yet there is limited evidence that alternative licensure options accomplish this.

If we are seeking options for prospective teachers to acquire a license to teach, Minnesota currently has many available: one-year master's degree programs for career-changers; programs with night and weekend courses; programs focused on urban teacher preparation, and a fully online licensure program, as well as undergraduate four-year programs.

Supporters of certain alternative-licensure legislation may be motivated by the financial resources that national programs can provide to license a small percentage of teachers in a short time frame.

Shouldn't the state be more interested in policies that will build a sustainable system for preparing thousands of teachers to fill all of our classrooms over the long term?

There is some evidence that programs that recruit teachers for short-term commitments may actually cost school districts in the long run.

Teachers licensed through fast-track, alternative-licensure programs leave teaching at much higher rates than those prepared in more traditional full-year or multiyear programs.

The National Commission for Teaching and America's Future estimates that for every teacher who leaves a school, districts lose anywhere from $4,366 to $17,872. Our schools cannot sustain such high teacher turnover.

Some argue that alternative pathways to licensure can help close the achievement gap. However, a six-year study by the National Research Council found there is not enough evidence to prove that those who enter teaching through alternative pathways are better than teachers from traditional preparation programs.

State dollars would be better invested in supporting teaching quality in more comprehensive, research-supported ways. For example, data show that teachers become more effective in raising student achievement with more experience in the classroom and by working in schools where everyone contributes to student learning.

Through the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI), the University of Minnesota, with support from the Archibald Bush Foundation, and school partners are applying these principals to redesign teacher preparation.

The program includes intensive field experiences supervised by an expert teacher; guaranteed teaching effectiveness for our graduates, and a three- to five-year mentoring and induction process for beginning teachers. This is a systemic approach to closing the achievement gap, rather than a short-term fix.

Alternative licensure may create new pipelines into teaching. If not done thoughtfully, however, it also risks creating further inequities and financial burdens. Real reform is more likely if we focus on maintaining the quality of teacher preparation and the support we offer beginning teachers so that they remain in the profession long enough to become experts.

Lisa M. Jones is the executive director of the Educator Development and Research Center in the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development. Misty Sato holds the Carmen Starkson Campbell Chair for Innovation in Teacher Development and is the director of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative in the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development.

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