Michigan: Just Another Case of Phony Alternative Teacher Certification "Reform"

From Michigan comes today’s reminder that education “reform” does not always mean real reform. History teacher Ryan McCarl writes for the Education Report that a new bill in his state designed to promote alternative teacher certification, well, really does very little or anything of the kind. In fact, he calls it “meaningless”:

The text of House Bill 5596 exhibits a continuing addiction to strict state regulation of the teacher labor market and a fundamental lack of trust in the capacity of local school officials to use their professional judgment to evaluate prospective teachers on a case-by-case basis, just as hiring professionals do in most fields in the private sector. Michigan policymakers continue to presume that traditional certification provides some sort of quality guarantee that alternative certification does not. But this position is not supported by either evidence or logic.

The alternative routes to teaching created by the new law will retain most of the same costs as the traditional route, adding Michigan to the growing list of states that have set up a framework for alternative certification that is really no alternative at all.

The main reason for the weakness of most alternative certification laws is that they are written under the heavy influence of teachers unions and schools of education. These powerful groups are deeply invested in the traditional certification process.

Presuming Mr. McCarl is accurate in his description of the legislation (and I have no reason to doubt him), then his analysis is 100% correct. It’s reassuring to see a teacher speak out on this issue, to pull back the curtain on the feeble arguments bolstering traditional teacher certification. I think I’ll add his website Wide Awake Minds to my regular reading list.

Now, no one — not even as young as I — should be so naive as to believe that Michigan represents the first test case of phony-baloney alternative teacher certification, or anything close to it. In fact, three years ago, Kate Walsh and Sandi Jacobs wrote a paper for the National Council on Teacher Quality called Alternative Teacher Certification Isn’t Alternative (PDF).

The good news is that states with real alternative teacher certification — groups like ABCTEshow a strong connection to improved reading and math scores.