Teacher in class room

Time To Rethink Certification

Iowa has one of the toughest certification procedures of which I am aware.  The way it works is that a student aspiring to be a teacher must be admitted to a college or university, and then be admitted to the college of education, and then pass coursework leading up to student teaching, then successfully student teach, and then apply for a job.  Upon gaining employment, the teacher is given a temporary certificate (initial license) to teach and then must satisfy the employer for two years to get a professional certificate (standard license).  If there is a problem somewhere in the first two years, the principal or superintendent can require that the teacher can still be on a temporary status and teach another year while working to correct whatever the issue seems to be and hope that at the end of the third year of teaching that the principal will then sign off on the fulfillment of the requirements for full certification and will be granted a professional certificate.

After acquiring the standard license, the teacher is then placed on the “tenure” status of a contract with all the Iowa laws protecting the teacher from dismissal without due process.  This is important because until the standard license is issued the teacher in the first two years is in double jeopardy.  Not only can a principal or superintendent easily dismiss the new teacher by not offering a contract for the next year, they can also stop that person from even getting a job in some other district because they won’t “sign-off” for the teacher to gain a standard license.

DOUBLE  JEOPARDY? If you have made it through the above explanation, then follow on some more.  This tough licensing process is theoretically designed for Iowa to have the highest qualified teachers so that we can best train our students and as a result see test scores improving.  Therefore, Iowa should theoretically move ahead of other states that have not made such a rigorous licensing process.  IT HASN’T WORKED!

Let’s explore why this theory of improvement has not worked and what should happen.  Here are some problems:

  • It gives the principal and superintendent too much power.
  • It keeps the teacher candidate on an insecure basis for too long.
  • It absolves the colleges from responsibility for the quality of their graduates.
  • It takes time out of an administrator’s schedule for a task they should not be given.
  • It assumes that principals and superintendents are positive trainers and evaluators of quality instruction.
  • It forces new teachers to bow to the administrative theories of their first supervisors whether these theories are solidly valid or not.
  • A new teacher can invest six to eight years in their career and then have a single personality reject their efforts.

No single person or even single school system should be able to keep a person from being certified in their career pursuit. The power to hire and fire is enough control for any individual.  Eliminating a person’s ability to apply for employment in another district should not be given to any single person or persons in a district.  I have seen individuals eliminated out of the profession because of personality conflicts of style and methods unique to the evaluating principal.  I have seen individuals forced out of a district with the leverage of loss of certification if they exercised the laws of objection to termination.  I have had to help negotiate getting a standard certificate approval with the administrator agreeing to “sign-off” for credentialing if the individual in question would quietly resign.

The fact is that many times, if not most of the time, a person who is not “well liked” in one employment setting can shine and do well in another.  As I have stated, the current system gives too much responsibility and too much power to a single individual.

The responsibility for readiness should not lie in the hands of school districts; it should lie in the hands of colleges and universities who do the training.  Our teacher-students pay upwards to $60,000 for a degree to earn gainful employment and colleges need to make sure that the programs they offer provide what they promise.  How can we make this happen? Make them compete for excellence and students (customers).

  • Survey and publish the success rates of graduates from the various institutions.
  • Survey and publish the success rate evaluations of the districts hiring new graduates.
  • Survey and publish the placement rates for the various institutions.
  • Survey and publish the opinions of the teacher training graduates about their readiness to teach.
  • Survey and publish the opinions of the teacher training graduates about the example and role models that their teacher education instructors were for them.

The bottom line of all this is that time and money is being wasted. We have not shown any improvement in our instruction of our students with the current system.  Frankly, we need to go back to the system we had a few short years ago and we need to hold our colleges and universities responsible for what they are teaching in teacher preparation.  Let them compete for students based on their success rates.  Let them bear the burden of the guarantee of readiness.  Quit laying this yoke on the local education agencies.

Now I want to pose a question for which I do not have a definitive answer.  When I look at the various fees for certification, continuing education credit, and endorsements, has the bureaucracy built a series of income streams into what on the surface has the appearance of existing for educational excellence? (http://www.boee.iowa.gov/require.html)  At what point is this system repressive?  I’ll quit the criticism when someone can demonstrate how all of the above has really contributed to excellence for our students.  After all, isn’t that why we spend the lion’s share of our state budget on education?