Monday, April 25, 2005


Nebraska is in trouble with the feds for not having a statewide competency exam for new and existing teachers, the way many states do. According to Sunday’s local daily, the feds also want middle school and high school teachers to major in their subject area or take plenty of classes in it, or their districts will lose federal funding through No Child Left Behind. Nebraska officials would rather the feds would MYOB and leave the evaluation of teacher quality up to the local yokels.

Now, I agree with those who say bureaucratic regulations such as certification don’t mean squat to ensure quality teaching. I believe good teachers are good communicators who have a heart for children and a bachelor’s degree.

But I can testify to what happens when a teacher with the brains to get a college degree still doesn’t have much knowledge in the subject at hand and isn’t interested enough in it to find out what should be taught.

Our daughter was in seventh grade and the four books selected for the class to read and discuss were all lousy -- at least, that’s the technical term, if you’re a bookworm like me. All were written on about the fifth-grade level, I’d say, within the last 20 years, by female authors, on Politically Correct topics: racism, anti-Semitism, euthanasia and teen violence. I don’t mind those topics, just the lousy, slanted, preachy way they were treated in those lousy books.

I wouldn’t have much minded the four books, either, if they were on a list with quite a few classics, too, so the kids were getting at least some quality. But noooo. That was it: no Shakespeare, no Austen, no Twain, no Faulkner, no way, no how. No literature.

So I said something to the English teacher. She confided that she hated reading and had been a drama major. She had been brought to that school to teach English until the drama teacher retired. Her real specialty was at-risk kids, anyway – not the academic cream of the crop, which is where she had been placed for teaching. She’d gotten the job because the district had gotten a federal grant to pay the salary of someone who knew about at-risk kids. I’d have no problem if that’s who she was teaching. But here she was, trying to teach English.

She suggested that we get some more challenging books for our daughter to read on her own. That made sense. I asked her for a few suggestions . . . and was saddened when she said she thought our 12-year-old should be reading crime novels by John Grisham.

Cheap, R-rated, pulp fiction . . . when, like any parent, I wanted my daughter exposed to the best literature with the most uplifting, original, wonderful ideas, plots and characters of history.

The poor teacher didn’t know any better, and she was the first to admit it. She was ‘way, ‘way, ‘way underqualified for that position. Our tax dollars at work.

So ironically, I agree with the feds – but that doesn’t mean I think the Nebraska officials should cave. Instead, I renew my longtime plea that we bail out of all federal funding, except for bona fide special ed.

Much more than mandates and regulations, we need freedom to concentrate on quality curriculum, instruction, hiring and firing, funded only with state and local taxes so that the educators and bureaucrats are responsive to the parents and taxpayers they are serving – not the feds – and educate our kids with excellence, making federal money and micromanagement totally unnecessary.

Here’s an article about teacher quality from my CD-ROM, “Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents.” For more, see my website,


Teacher Quality

Q. Teachers say their certificates aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, competency or licensing exams are so easy it’s ridiculous, and the whole system that the public thinks is ensuring teacher quality is a farce. Is this true?

Few would quibble with these basic requirements for a competent teacher: intellectual ability, formal education, and on-the-job experience. But what is at issue is which of those is the most important.

A teaching certificate is heavily slanted toward a university-based education degree and continuing education credits. But what does the research on teacher effectiveness show?

It shows that formal education is a distant third in what makes a good teacher. Average to high verbal ability as measured on exams such as the SAT, ACT and GRE, is a much more reliable correlate to a successful teaching career than having an education degree or a valid teaching certificate.

Similarly, the record shows that teacher induction programs with mentoring and a reduced first-year teaching load are much more predictive of teaching success than having a teaching degree – even a master’s degree in education – and a certificate.

There is solid evidence of a connection between the verbal ability of the teacher and the achievement of that teacher’s students. But there is no solid evidence of a correlation between the presence or absence of a teaching certificate, and student achievement.

It makes a lot of sense to scale down the teacher certification process to background checks for safety concerns, to verify qualifications, and provide governmental accountability to the public.

The study listed below concludes with this warning: “Reduced to its essence, teacher certification is incapable of providing any insight into an individual’s ability, intellect, curiosity, creativity, affinity for children, and instructional skills. So long as the deficiencies in the research on teacher quality are ignored, misrepresented, or debated, there are clear losers. They are the disadvantaged students who are most dependent on the quality of their teachers and the opportunity provided by a high quality public school education.”

Homework: Download the well-documented 2001 study, “Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality,” by Kate Walsh, The Abell Foundation,

Comments: Post a Comment