Study Questions Value of Teacher Certification

Published September 1, 1999

The Clinton-Gore administration’s plan to raise the standards for teacher certification wouldn’t put better teachers in the classroom but could actually reduce teacher quality, according to an important new report released on July 14 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in cooperation with the Education Leaders Council.

The study also found that math and science students taught by teachers with “emergency” credentials do no worse on tests than students taught by teachers who are fully certified.

These findings are reported in Better Teachers, Better Schools, a 250-page study edited by Marci Kanstoroom, the Foundation’s director of research, and Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration.

The report’s starting point is a Teacher Manifesto–“The Teachers We Need and How to Get More of Them”–issued by the Foundation on April 20 on behalf of several dozen state education officials, prominent education analysts, and veteran practitioners.

The Manifesto argues that the surest path to getting more quality teachers is not to further restrict entry into teaching but to widen the doorway into the profession by eliminating most teacher-hiring regulations–making it easier to hire teachers who have content knowledge rather than an education degree–and judging teachers by how much their students learn. This is the model used by every successful modern business, explained Finn: Insist on results, but be flexible about how to get them.

“Education is the last remaining field in America where people think you can boost quality by tightening the rules and multiplying the regulations,” said Finn. “A lot of governors, legislators, and business leaders have been bamboozled by the teacher ed establishment,” he added, but “when Congress is on the verge of enacting a $10 billion ‘teacher improvement’ bill, we should blow the whistle on bad ideas and offer up some good ones.”

Some “bad ideas” the Fordham report debunks:

Myth: Education school is necessary to give teachers a knowledge base. Reality: What education schools call a “knowledge base” is a collection of dubious fads and nostrums.

Myth: National accreditation will improve teacher preparation. Reality: There is scant evidence that programs approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education produce superior teachers.

Myth: National Board Certification identifies superior teachers. Reality: An independent review found no evidence that teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are superior.

Myth: Peer review is the only way to judge teacher effectiveness. Reality: William Sanders’ value-added analysis shows teachers can be judged fairly and accurately by the academic gains of their students.

For more information …

Better Teachers, Better Schools was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1627 K Street NW #600, Washington, DC 20006; phone 202/223-5452, fax 202/223-9226. Single copies of the report are available by calling 1-888-TBF-7474. The full volume also is available on the Foundation’s Web site at The Fordham Foundation also published the Teacher Manifesto, The Teachers We Need and How to Get More of Them. This also is available by calling 1-888-TBF-7474.