You've probably seen an image like this:
It's what you see when you try to access a secure web site but the web site itself certified itself as being secure.
When people see this on a professional site it sets off all manner of red flags. We feel much more comfortable when go to a site and we don't see that error. When we see the secure green lock in the url bar indicating that this site is certified through an external trusted source.
Let's take this a step further. If you needed surgery would you go to a board certified surgeon or would you go to Dr. Nick Riviera or some other "self certified" doctor? Likewise you wouldn't want to be represented in court by someone who hasn't passed the bar.
We might not feel that these certification and licensing processes are perfect but when we need the services of a doctor or lawyer, we're happy these gatekeepers exist.
So we should all be extremely concerned with today's announcement that the deal for mayoral control just brokered in NYC came with strings attached and one of those strings looks to open the doors to give some charter chains the ability to self certify their teachers.
One might think that some requirements to become a teacher are ridiculous. I'll get to them later but this is really giving the fox the keys to the henhouse.
Charters appear to have extremely high rates of teacher attrition so it makes sense that they want to control their teacher pipeline. This alone should be a red flag against self certification but what else are charter chains known for?
- Misleading stats - claiming amazing passing numbers on standardized exams while neglecting to mention that somehow or other big blocks of students were removed from the school prior to the test year (link).
- The gotta go list
- Forcing high levels of parent involvement (tough for single working parents)
- Charging illegal fees.
Top this off with as taking resources from public schools.
Charters operate in anything but a transparent manner and we're expected to trust them to prepare "highly effective" teachers? I don't think so. Since there is no real accountability for charter schools - they can easily game the system through student attrition, selective admissions (by putting up barriers to enter the lottery) and test prep they can pay lip service to teacher preparation and the public will be none the wiser.
If we had a reasonable way of holding principals accountable and no, test scores are not the answer then we could pretty much do away with teacher certification. If principals were held to task to run an effective school, something we can easily define but not measure, then they would have every incentive to hire the best teachers. Unfortunately we're nowhere near that place.
Since we're not, we're left with the current systems of teacher certification that has it's own slew of problems. A big part of it, in my opinion is that schools of education have lost the high ground. While there are some institutions doing great work, reputation wise, schools of education are held in very low regard. Strong teachers trade stories of the watered down content classes and waste of time classes where professors share their pet theories of education. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the new definitive way to teach. At the same time, education research is frequently held in low regard by teachers and the general public.
On the one hand we have charters run by and support by non-educators wanting us to trust them and on the other we have institutions that are questioned by the teachers they produce and the general public.
What a mess.
I don't know the answer. I'm working on teacher certifications programs at Hunter and it's a balancing act. How much content is sufficient and how much is too much. Can any of the general content be streamlined or is it all necessary. If it isn't necessary do we need it anyway to satisfy the bean counters?
If you don't have enough then we're sending unprepared teachers into the classroom. Too much and we'll drive potential teachers away.
As computer science education is defining itself we see similar struggles. We have some people advocating certifications analogous to existing teacher certifications. On the other extreme we have advocates for two weeks summer training and you're a CS teacher. I'd like to think that I'm advocating for the sweet spot. Strong content knowledge not tied to a specific course and matching content related pedagogy. Time will tell becomes the certification standard and time will tell whose approach was right.
For now, it's important not to give away the store. Private charter schools should not be the driving force behind teacher certification and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to train their own teachers and then 'teach' our students without much greater scrutiny.
I'm sure some of my friends will point out that private schools aren't held to any particular standard for teacher certification. This is true but private schools don't take public funds. Actually they do but in my opinion, they shouldn't. I maintain that charter schools are publicly funded private schools in that they take public money but operate as private entities. As such they should be held under the greatest of scrutiny and standards – they aren't