There are two great impediments to entering the teaching profession- state certification rules which are demanded by the unions, and nepotism. Any profession requires that a member be certified by the state- doctors, lawyers, even hairdressers. It is generally a sign that the person has achieved some level of expertise in their chosen field. Teacher quality is certainly an important factor in academic achievement, but unfortunately given the education teachers receive, the programs and the continuing education is often NOT linked to classroom success.
Intuitively, people believe that increased credentialing necessarily means better teachers. In fact, there is consistent evidence that proves that teaching certificates obtained through an accredited teacher education program and master’s degrees in education do not translate into classroom success. However, most public school system collective bargaining contracts reward teachers with a teaching certificate or those with a master’s degree in education. The salary increases rise exponentially with a doctorate in education.
An example of the silliness of teacher certification requirements is the success of the Teach For America program that tries to recruit teachers who have not gone through traditional teacher education programs. In many states, they have adopted a program known as “alternate route certification” which bypasses the traditional methods and is based on a mentoring system with actual classroom experience. Usually, this draws in people with degrees in a particular area who may be interested in teaching or, more often, are substitute teachers first. The fact that many such people are today effective teachers illustrates that teaching certificates which are based on course instruction long on theory and short on practical experience is not a necessity.
As stated earlier, salary increases are often linked to these pieces of paper. The higher the degree level, the higher the salary grade. Instead, if teachers are to be rewarded, it should be for advancing their knowledge in their chosen area of expertise. If it is science or math, then seeking a higher degree in those disciplines should be rewarded, not a degree in education. In fact, one NAEP study clearly concluded that higher degrees have little to no effect on improving one’s teaching abilities. Throw in the fact that many districts partially pay for these degrees through tuition reimbursement and one can see why there are so many ineffective teachers with master’s degrees and doctorates.
The research on years of experience and academic success is inconclusive. If anything, the research shows that teachers show the most improvement in teaching ability in the first few years of employment. This makes intuitive sense since tenure kicks in after those first “few years” and the teacher will naturally slack off knowing they have the security of tenure. This is counter-intuitive to current salary increases which reward teachers the least when they perform best and pays them better after they achieved tenure.
Michigan faced opposition from teachers and their union when they decided to base teacher salaries not on a piece of paper, but on classroom performance and the academic success of their students. Unfortunately, because of teacher unions, rewarding the best teachers through merit pay (despite what the research shows) is not sanctioned. Their top reason for opposing merit pay is that the possible competition will hurt the morale of the teachers. In other words, the collective morale of teachers is more important than academic success.
Conversely, teacher unions have been at the vanguard of efforts to end nepotism. In West Virginia, for example, they championed a 9-point prescribed criteria rating system for teacher hiring decisions. In short, they were arguing for an objective system. However, when it comes to raises and pay scales regarding existing teachers, then the objective systems are rejected by the teacher unions. If objectivity is good for hiring, then it should be good for the entire process, but objectivity regarding teacher qualifications, pay and increases ends once the teacher is hired.
This was at the core of Minnesota’s reforms which Tim Pawlenty pushed through. After they were enacted, it was expanded because it was so successful. Although the unions fought him, they reluctantly went along and the result was (1) better academic performance and (2) happier teachers- at least those who were financially recognized for their performance. Teachers- not their unions- must be made to understand that conservative reform measures are intended to reward success individually, not collectively.