North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation that lets charter schools hire more elementary-level teachers without teaching certificates. The new law decreases the proportion of required elementary charter school teachers with teacher certification from 75 percent to 50 percent. That rate was revised several times through the legislative process, until a last-minute request by the governor brought the final number from 25 percent to 50 percent for all K-12 charter school teachers. It remains at 75 percent for high school teachers.
The change stems from the ideas that non-licensed people can make excellent teachers, and charter schools are an appropriate place to try out innovative ideas, said bill author and state Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph). As one example, he cited an engineer neighbor who wanted to teach but didn’t want to spend time or money fulfilling certification requirements.
“The assumption is that a licensed teacher is a good teacher, but there is no evidence for that. In fact, most research shows little relationship between licensure and performance,” said Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. “The reason that education schools are not producing quality teachers is the curriculum is highly focused on methodology and theory, rather than subject matter. It does not require that elementary school teachers learn the science of reading or know math. It does not require high school teachers to know a lot of content on their subjects.”
The Certification Debate
Teach for America teachers with only six weeks of teacher training outperform teachers who receive four years of teacher education, a recent University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study found.
“I would rather see teacher education programs improved rather than remove licensure requirements altogether,” said Matthew Ellinwood, a policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center. “Teaching schools should help teachers become masters of their own subject area, as well as to know how to teach. State certification should be tied to teacher performance.”
However, North Carolina’s legislature has tried to increase teacher licensing requirements with no success, said Jane Shaw, president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh: “So many brilliant people have tried to improve the education schools and failed that I am somewhat despairing. The best thing to do is to bring in competition—as the charter school change will to a small extent—and to create genuine alternative pathways for licensing.”
Ellinwood suggests paying teachers more to attract higher-quality applicants, and making the teaching profession somewhere more people want to stay. In the 2008-2009 school year, the most recent year for which data are available, only 16 percent of North Carolina teachers who quit teaching said they were retiring.
The three agreed on one thing: higher-quality teachers mean higher-quality education.
Image by Hal Goodtree.