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Opinion

Are Teacher Certifications Worth the Paper They’re Printed On?

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, a 13-year old graph was dusted off and shared widely on social media. That graph (pictured below) was part of a 2006 Brookings Institute report titled, "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job." Authors Robert Gordon, Thomas Kane, and Douglas Staiger argue that teacher effectiveness, in fact, has little to nothing to do with certification.

Many critics of school choice will trot out the "uncertified teachers" arrow with the hope of discouraging parents from moving their children out of union-controlled government schools where certification is a requirement. This important research, however, adequately refutes the assertion that uncertified teachers are less effective teachers. As it turns out, the difference in student performance, on the average, is negligible. Uncertified teachers seem to be quite capable of teaching children just as effectively as their certified peers.

How could this be? We've been told for decades that certification is much more than simply a certificate--it is skill with its accompanying credibility. Sadly for certified teachers, the time and money spent adding this to their resumes doesn't do anything to help them teach children. While the certificate may gain teachers credibility, it does not gain them skill. That renders the credibility hollow and false.

Could it be that certification was simply an ill-advised foray into a web of red tape advocated by corporations, unions --to protect their members-- and government? That's a history lesson for another day.

"Over many years, American schools have experimented with various reform strategies, from increasing accountability to reducing class sizes."

The authors argue that none of them have worked. EFI agrees with their assessment.

Advocating for alternatives to certification isn't new, but state governments have not taken action to lift requirements that research has shown do nothing to improve student learning. As a result, teacher certifications are simply unnecessary barriers to a profession that has long struggled to find an adequate supply of labor. Given all of the required inputs for an individual to become a teacher, the outputs just aren't worth it. Further, if tuition-based private schools saw any benefits in teacher certification, we should expect them to require that of their candidates, but they often don't.

Gordon, Kane, and Staiger put forward five recommendations that they claim will begin to move the needle on teacher effectiveness. Recommendation five in the report suggests that student and teacher performance be tracked over time.

"Traditionally, policymakers have tried to raise teacher quality by raising the hurdles for those entering teaching. But our results suggest that those hurdles are often not related to teacher effectiveness. Rather than continuing to focus on teacher credentials, our proposal would build the infrastructure to measure teacher effectiveness on the job and to encourage states and districts to use that information."

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Education is About Children First

Recently, the largest teacher union in the United States held its annual meeting, referred to as a “representative assembly.” During this meeting, the more than 6,000 delegates submitted for review and approval over 160 “new business items.” These items amount to resolutions to be adopted as policy positions to be maintained by the union, its leaders, and its members.

Among these resolutions, the second of 161 in total, was an item that proposed the union “…re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

This measure was voted down. The proposed resolution failed. Of the 6,000 delegates, all NEA members, they sponsors of the “new business item” could not garner enough support for its passage, and so it was “defeated.”

At first glance (and second, and third…) this seems quite strange. How could the largest teacher union not have a majority of its delegates support a “recommitment” to student learning as a priority?

Well, if you consider the primary function of the union itself, the picture becomes much clearer. The teacher union exists for the teachers–and nobody else. If someone else is positively impacted by the work of the union as a byproduct of its normal course of business, so be it. But, the union exists to support and protect its dues-paying members. Full stop.

Unfortunately, the defeat of the so-called “RA NBI 2” in Houston, Texas is not really as surprising as it is disappointing.

Most teachers really do care about their students. Their labor union, on the other hand, doesn’t collect more revenues by caring about children. It collects more revenues by adding dues-paying members.

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Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia, got surplus school space made of stona

by Matthew Ladner

Note: This article appeared originally at Chamber Business News. Reproduced here with the permission of the author.

Egypt arose as “the gift of the Nile” because the river enabled easy transport. Arizona can be thought of as “the gift of the Colorado” given that without the canal bringing down water there would be far fewer of us here. Ancient Egypt and modern Arizona share other similarities-including an arid climate and (alas) an edifice complex.

Egyptians developed an edifice complex by spending vast fortunes of human labor and treasure building giant stone tombs, which always wound up getting robbed, making them not only unimaginably expensive but also entirely pointless. So why the trip down history lane? Stick with me, it all will make sense soon.

Arizona doesn’t build pyramids, but we do however continue to build far more district school space than demanded by parents with an almost Pharaonic ferocity. The Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Financial Report listed $868,808,456 in school facility construction costs between 2008 and 2018. The total value of buildings and land held by districts increased from $12.6 billion to $19.4 billion during this period, according to the same report. The chart below from the latest School Facilities Board report, however, shows that the number of students attending Arizona districts declined during the Great Recession.

Statewide district enrollment declined by 42,404 over the last 10 years, while district spending on facilities and debt continued to increase despite fewer students statewide. Districts of course vary in their enrollment circumstances, with some growing, many flat and others seeing declines. We should not begrudge fast growing districts that build much-needed space, especially if it is being acquired in an efficient manner. However, some of the biggest construction projects have come from districts with declining enrollment, and efficiency doesn’t seem to be near the top of the priority list.

The reason spending on facilities may have gone up while enrollment has declined seems to have to do with politics, rather than the need for space.

The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (AZCIR) and KJZZ reported in 2017 on financial relationships between a small group of architects, construction companies and subcontractors and the school districts in Maricopa County. They found that architects, construction firms and subcontractors accounted for nearly all the financial contributions made to Maricopa County districts’ bond and override campaigns from 2013-2016. This is dubious enough in a fast-growing district with clear facility needs, but it has also been happening in districts with shrinking enrollments.

Scottsdale Unified School District, which has a declining student population and a great deal of vacant space, is spending $303 and $333 per square foot on two new schools, according to an April 11 presentation made by a contracting firm to Scottsdale Unified board members regarding their troubled school construction process which included the image above. If those costs seem a bit high to you, it might be because Arizona charters are currently spending closer to $200 per square foot for new construction.

The bigger question of course is why a district with a great deal of vacant and unused space finds itself spending hundreds of millions of dollars on school space. The Arizona Auditor General found that Scottsdale Unified could have generated enough revenue from making better use of vacant facility space to give every teacher a $2,700 raise in 2012. Instead the district is spending hundreds of millions on facilities without enough students to fill the current facilities, and dropped average teacher pay by over $4,000 between fiscal year 2017 and 2018.

The Arizona Chamber Foundation and Goldwater Institute recently found that Arizona has more than 1.4 million square feet of vacant and underutilized space. Bond elections mired in self-interested special interest funding and low voter turnout are only compounding the issue.

Here’s a modest proposal to improve matters—Arizona should collect K-12 capital funding on a statewide, rather than a local basis and provide it on an equitable per pupil basis to students. District and charter schools should be free to spend these funds in whatever fashion they feel furthers their educational mission, whether that is building a new school, patching a leaky roof, or paying their teachers. Finally districts with surplus school space should either sell or lease space to high demand models to generate additional operating funding, offload a cost, and provide additional opportunities to families.

Alternatively, we could just continue to build like an Egyptian.