Georgia District: No Education Degree Required to Teach

Published July 23, 2016

To fill 450 open teaching positions for the 2016–17 school year, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) in Georgia has expanded eligibility to applicants who do not have an education degree.

As enrollment in college education programs continues to decline, Georgia schools are forced to find non-traditional teachers to head their classrooms.

Heather Bilton—the talent, acquisition, and retention coordinator for SCCPSS—said, “Even if we hired everybody from our two local universities, we would not have enough people to fill our vacancies.” 

To be eligible for Savannah-Chatham’s Alternative Pathways to Teaching certification program, an applicant must pass a background check, possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, have a minimum overall GPA of 2.5 if the degree was obtained in the past 10 years, and pass two educator assessments.

The program allows a teacher to “work as you go” and become certified as a teacher in one to three years.

Value of Education Degrees

Ben Scafidi, a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says people who did not major in education are usually more qualified to teach than those who earned an education degree.

“Most studies find alternative teachers are slightly more effective relating to test scores,” Scafidi said. “A few studies have actually plotted the distributions. Under very plausible assumptions, you could hire alternative teachers randomly and do better in terms of effectiveness than if you banned alternative teachers.

“There’s been a drop in enrollment in departments of education,” Scafidi said. “[For] individuals with college degrees and high GPAs in a content field, it should be easy for them to enter into teaching.”

‘Doesn’t Seem to Matter Much’

Eric Wearne, assistant professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education, says teacher certification does not make much of an impact.

“Certification itself doesn’t seem to matter much at all,” Wearne said. “There’s a lot more variation among teachers who are certified and among teachers who are not certified. There are really good certified teachers and really good uncertified teachers.”

Bilton says the alternative pathways program has allowed SCCPSS to diversify the classes they can now offer students.

“[Regarding] the career, technical, and agricultural education positions, almost all of our teachers come from an alternative pathway,” Bilton said. “We have law enforcement, cybersecurity, web design, the business and marketing positions; about 90 percent [of teachers in these subject areas] come from an alternative pathway. They have a degree, they’ve worked in the field, and they are retired or just want a career change and want to teach.”

Public School Bias

Scafidi says public schools encourage the belief alternatively trained teachers aren’t qualified.

“A lot of research finds that public schools aren’t very good at identifying teachers on the front end,” Scafidi said. “Part of that is the bias against hiring alternatively trained teachers. They are people that had high GPAs in college [and] majored in content fields like math, English, or economics, so by having a bias against hiring those folks, they’re not hiring well on the front end.”

Local Control

In Savannah-Chatham County, the district relies on localized decision-making for hiring success, Bilton says.

“Our principals hire for their schools, so we don’t hire centrally and hire out,” Bilton said. “We want principals to have accountability. We screen for eligibility, and then we allow the principals to make the selection.”

Bilton says the alternative program has been a success.

“We get people from all different places,” Bilton said. “People with really cool backgrounds who can help bring the content alive. We have teacher after teacher after teacher who has come through an alternative pathway who is highly effective with students.”

The 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year, Ernie Lee, a history teacher in SCCPSS, is a former attorney and alternatively prepared teacher.

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.