Like all unions, teachers unions have a vested interest in restricting the labor supply to reduce job competition. Traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of “certified” teachers. But a new study suggests that such requirements also hinder student learning.
Harvard researchers Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler compared states that have genuine alternative certification with those that have it in name only. And they found that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with a real alternative pathway to teaching gained more on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a federal standardized test) than did students in other states.
“In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively,” report the authors in the current issue of Education Next. “In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels respectively.”
The study undermines the arguments from colleges of education and teachers unions, which say that traditional certification, which they control, is the only process that can produce quality teachers. The findings hold up even after controlling for race, ethnicity, free-lunch eligibility, class size and per-pupil state spending.
Forty-seven states have adopted a pathway to teaching, alternative to the standard state certification otherwise required. Is this new pathway genuine or merely symbolic? Does it open the classroom door to teachers of minority background? Does it help–or hinder–learning in the classroom? Claims about all of these questions have arisen in public discourse. Recently, data have become available that allow us to check their validity.
To receive a standard state certification in most states, prospective teachers not only must be college graduates but also must have taken a specific set of education-related courses that comprise approximately 30 credit hours of coursework. Prospective teachers are well advised to pursue studies at a college or university within the state where they expect to teach, because it is often only within that state that students can get the courses required for state certification in the subject area and for the grade levels that they will be teaching.
Such certification requirements limit the supply of certified teachers, and as a result, serious teaching shortages are regularly observed. For example, in California, one-third of the entire teacher work force, about 100,000 teachers, will retire over the next decade and need to be replaced, compounding what the governor’s office calls a “severe” current teacher shortage. Other states are facing a similar situation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics projects a shortfall of 280,000 qualified math and science teachers by 2015. As former National Education Association president Reg Weaver put it, “At the start of every school year, we read in the newspaper…stories about schools scrambling to hire teachers.”