Friday, October 31, 2008

Alternative Certification Works

Last week, representatives from the McCain (Lisa Graham Keegan) and Obama (Linda Darling Hammond) campaigns met at Columbia University for a debate on education. Later in the week, in an open letter on The Huffington Post in response to the debate, Stanford University professor Martin Carnoy took issue with several of Senator McCain’s education policies, including his stance on teacher recruitment.

I’m not looking to take sides or to support one candidate’s proposed policies over those of the other. But I do take issue with the fact that Carnoy sells alternative certification programs short in his letter, as he only focuses on Teach for America and expresses his doubts about whether or not “alternatively certified teachers staying an average of two plus years in the classroom are going to make a serious long-term dent in improving education for academically shortchanged kids.”

What Carnoy neglects to mention is that Lisa Graham Keegan also named other alternative certification programs, including the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), during the same segment of the debate when Teach for America was discussed. Anyone who has taken a close look at ABCTE knows that we’re not looking to plug teachers into the system for the short term as a quick fix (nor do I think that is Teach for America’s goal).

By focusing our efforts at ABCTE on recruiting mid-career professionals, we’re seeing that our teachers have staying power. After three years, 85% of ABCTE’s graduates are still teaching. Our rigorous program takes 8 to 10 months to complete on average and only 40% of ABCTE candidates pass our Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) exam the first time. Our candidates must also hold a bachelor’s degree from an approved college or university and pass a subject area exam as well as a background check. We’re not simply giving people “a quick course” and throwing them into the classroom, and I hope Carnoy understands that.

Carnoy also claims in his letter that “there just aren't enough highly skilled, relevantly prepared educators trained to work” in high need schools. I agree completely and that’s why ABCTE introduced the Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program in late 2007.

ABCTE’s Teach & Inspire Scholarship Program recruits, certifies, and supports highly effective new teachers of diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to work in high-need schools, districts, and subject areas. Teach & Inspire is already active in Florida and Mississippi (by the way, the deadline for the program’s current application period is November 15, 2008), and we’re looking to expand it into other states.

There are many phenomenal alternative certification programs out there, Teach for America among them, and Carnoy’s seemingly blanket dismissal of them all—intentional or not—is unfortunate. All programs need to be looked at independently and it very well may be a mix of these alternative certification methods that helps solve our teacher shortage problems over the long haul.

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