- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

As public schools prepare for fall reopening, attention focuses on finding enough "qualified" teachers. The

education world's Cassandras warn of teacher shortages for at least a decade to come.

Unfortunately, central school personnel offices deem teachers fully qualified only if they are products of process-heavy, content-light schools of education. If Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman or historian Vann Woodward applied, they could hope only to be issued "emergency" credentials to allow them to teach a short time while they went to ed-school nights and summers to earn the requisite credits in diversity appreciation, the history of education, and the like.

They would not be deemed qualified teachers until they did that. Nor could U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley with his JD from the University of South Carolina and his experience instate and federal government qualify to teach civics.

Of course, it is unlikely such prominentpeople would want to switch to K-12 schoolteaching. But there are plenty of other smart people with degrees in the arts and sciences who would be interested in teaching if there weren't so many nonsensical hoops to jump through. Such shortages as exist in schoolteaching are largely artificial a product of monopoly control of the market.

The principal voice for reforming entry to teaching careers in recent years has been the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), a Carnegie-Rockefeller-funded entity with no official standing. But NCTAF would put teacher education wholly under the control of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), an offshoot of the National Education Association, thus effectively making it the OPEC of public education.

NCATE accreditors have shown more concern that new teachers possess politically correct attitudes than a classroom game plan for raising their students' achievement. Major schools of education already stress "social justice" to the point of relegating academics to the back seat.

Examples abound in online syllabi. The granddaddy of them all Teachers College, Columbia University requires extensive coursework in multicultural diversity, to which it proclaims "a special commitment." The University of Kansas' College of Education states that "social justice and issue of equity are infused into major topics" of teacher training. The Kentucky Department of Education says new teachers should have "sufficient" knowledge of academic content, but it seems far more enthused about "performance criteria" i.e., teaching in such a wayas to address "physical, social and cultural diversity" and to "show sensitivity to differences."

By making NCATE and the ed-schools the gatekeepers to teaching careers, NCTAF merely would ratify the monopolistic status quo.

There is another way the course of true reform. End the monopoly in teacher education. Specifically, let principals in consultation with their best teachers hire the brightest individuals available. These could be degree-holders in the arts and sciences who know their disciplines thoroughly, or seasoned veterans of business, the military, the Peace Corps, or other character-shaping ventures. Then rather than marching them off to ed-school, let the schools train them on the job in such ancillary duties as monitoring lunchrooms and drawing lesson plans.

This is not just a theoretical model for reform. There are elements of it at work in the states that could provide the basis for broader change.

New Jersey led the way when in 1984 it drastically reduced the number of education courses required for traditional certification. At the same time, it allowed principals to recruit liberal arts graduates who hadn't been through education school at all. These new teachers were put under the tutelage of a mentor teacher in order to receive on-the-jobtraining, According to a Fordham Foundation study by Leo Klagholtz, former New Jersey Commissioner of Education, this new approach has resulted in higher scores on licensing tests, a lower attrition rate, and a more diverse teaching force.

But there is one more factor: How much do novice teachers help their students gain academically? Tennessee has this piece of the puzzle with its widely heralded value-added assessment system. Developed by Dr. William Sanders at the University of Tennessee, this is a sophisticated statistical analysis that pinpoints annual gains in student achievement producedby each teacher. It breaks down progress by core subject, and compares test-score gains to national, state and local benchmarks.

In addition to isolating the impact of individual teachers, value-added assessment can help decision-makers reach intelligent judgments about the value of curricular innovations or the programs by which teachers were trained.

New Jersey + Tennessee = real reform. NCTAF +NCATE + the NEA = bogus reform. Results should count. It's as simple as that.



Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute.

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