Instead of certification

Some teachers are a lot better than others, but there’s no way to tell until they start teaching, concludes a Hamilton Project report. So why not dump certification and judge new teachers on classroom effectiveness?

We propose federal support to help states measure the effectiveness of individual teachers — based on their impact on student achievement, subjective evaluations by principals and peers, and parental evaluations.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof teacher quality. Kristof advocates the Hamilton Project’s plan for improving American schools:

• End requirements for teacher certification.

• Make tenure more difficult to get so weak teachers can be weeded out after two or three years on the job.

• Award $15,000 annual bonuses to good teachers for as long as they teach at schools in low-income areas.

Certification requirements discourage smart people from entering teaching in midcareer but don’t keep out the untalented, Kristof argues.

A Los Angeles study found students with teachers in the top quartile of effectiveness scored 10 percentile points higher than students with teachers in the bottom quartile. That’s a huge difference, especially for students in high-poverty schools that tend to employ the least effective teachers.

The Hamilton Project study recommends that the weakest 25 percent of new teachers should be denied tenure and eliminated after two or three years on the job (teachers improve a lot in the first two years, but not much after that). That approach, it estimates, would raise students’ average test scores by 14 percentile points by the time they graduated.

On Quick and the Ed, Kevin Carey calls the Hamilton proposals a “seismic change” possibly involving the earth rotating backwards on its axis.

It would mean taking seriously a fact that most educators know intuitively yet is largely absent from teacher policy: teaching is an extraordinarily complicated endeavor, and people find different ways to be good at it. You can train and test prospective teachers, give them knowledge and skill, and those things are important, but once they get into the classroom some teachers bring additional talents, work ethic, intelligence, drive, etc. to bear, and others don’t. Those differences matter a lot to student learning.

Students who get the ineffective teachers who haven’t yet been weeded out would be out of luck. But would these teachers have been weeded out in teacher education programs? Probably not.

On Education Sector, Carey notes that states are skirting the federal law that requires them to identify underperforming teacher education programs. Thirty-one states haven’t found a single teacher prep lemon.

Louisiana is an exception:

In addition to having a legitimate pass-rate standard, Louisiana has recently embarked on a groundbreaking effort to assess programs using information about how well program graduates perform in the classroom. By using “value-added” measures of year-to-year growth in student scores on standardized tests, Louisiana soon will be basing program accountability on the success of program graduates in helping their students meet state achievement standards.

A preliminary study found half of teacher preparation programs are graduating new teachers who are comparable in effectiveness to experienced teachers.

Teachers, what do you think of the Hamilton Project ideas? Could it be done well — or, at least, better than the current system?

Update: Eduwonk is gagaless over the Kristof column because he thinks the real problem is the need for competent administrators who can tell a good teacher from a lemon. Value-added data crunching isn’t enough, he writes.

Update II: NYC Educator and Miss Malarkey think teachers do better if they’ve taken graduate education classes required for certification.

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  1. But to accomplish this, which I think is a VERY worthy goal, you would have to have some general agreement on what good teaching IS…which I don’t think we really have. Who is going to do the on-the-ground judging? Teachers are terrified of merit pay ideas for just this reason–they don’t think anyone can judge what it is they do, because there are no broadly accepted criteria. Everything becomes personal, and therefore risky.

    (which, interestingly, I just wrote about yesterday:

  2. We teachers know who the effective and ineffective are among us, but quantifying ineffectiveness and determining objective criteria–*that* is the difficult part of the process. Overcome that, and this process would be ideal.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I haven’t read the entire Hamilton Report yet,but something has to be done about the way teachers are certified. I have been teaching in Florida for 3 years and I am about to finish my professional certificate. I was a chemical engineer in a former life and decided to go into teaching. Now that I am almost done with this certificate, I am about to leave this career as well. I’ve participated in an Alternative Certification program for the past 2 years. The time I’ve spent completing assignments for that (and the ESOL and reading competency courses) has definately taken away from time I could have spent to improve my lessons and teacher effectiveness. It has been very frustrating and many times I break down in tears. I’ve been observed by faculty and staff who are surprised that I don’t have a professional certificate yet because of how well I handle my class, they assume I have more experience. I’ve observed other teachers too, and some are so dumb and ineffective and unprofessional it’s down right embarassing.

  4. I agree with Darren that teachers are an excellent judge on who is and is not effective, and that the objective criteria would be very difficult to determine.

    Oh, and parent evaluations of teachers is insane.

    Double “Oh”, you better have some seriously good adminstration to support your teachers. Since you are basically ready to dump teachers in their hardest years of teaching, the least you can do give them the best support possible.

    Saying that, it would seem that one thing that is really needed, yet almost never addressed, is the need for much better administrators. You might not even need to drastically change the system, if you have excellent administrators to weed out incompetent teachers.

    Another rambling post-script, my credential program prepared me a little for the real classroom, but I don’t think anything really can. The most I got from the program was that preparation and attention to detail was key in teaching. However, it was my mentor teacher that kept me in the classroom for the entire day (“either really teach, or don’t, but don’t be here only 2 hours a day”) that best prepared me the classroom. Still, nothing beats the real thing, and you can’t simulate that. I don’t think anyone, except teachers, will understand that.

  5. I preface this by saying tht I think teahing quality an be improved but I think there is one thing that needs to be spoken about. If we fired all except the top quartile of teahers, where would the other 75% of the students go for their, not as good but at least its some kind of eduation. There isn’t a long line out there, folks, of top quartile-type teachers just beating down our door to teach. Some shool districts are lucky to get even bottom quartile teachers to fill positions. Until the status and pay of teachers come up comiserate to the demand for higher quality teaching, nothing is going to happen. Also, we need to remember that these are humans. 10-15% of people occupying any profession are crappy. This is reality.

  6. Charles R. Williams says:

    These proposals make sense considering the very high turnover of beginning teachers and the enormous costs of making a mid-career switch into teaching.

    Assistant principals should take a stronger role in hiring teachers and be held accountable for the success of the teachers they hire. It is the classroom management issues that make or break new teachers and no one is better able to help them succeed than assistant principals because of their role in discipline. Too often beginning teachers are left to sink or swim or are undermined by administrators if they get into trouble.

  7. All of this is yet another reason why it’s insane to run an education system the way we do today. If private entities made hiring and firing decisions, none of this would matter.

    We don’t have a body that certifies whether reporters are qualified for their jobs, but newspapers somehow manage to keep the decent ones and fire the lousy ones. Nobody certifies which people are qualified to manage fast food stores or work as secretaries or cook at Pizza Hut.

    When lousy people ge those jobs, they’re either weeded out or else the market punishes the companies that keep unqualified people. Why is it so difficult to see that the same market mechanism can do the same thing with teachers and administrators if we can take government out of the equation?

  8. There are good comments here.

    I learned to teach by experience and I found my credentialing program absurd.

    But credentialing programs do serve a purpose. Those who can get through them can usually put up with the absurdity of public school bureaucracy.

    But I don’t know if I’m an effective teacher. I teach students stuff, I test them, a certain percentage pass. In all my years of teaching, I have never been told how my students compare to students of other teachers.

    I’m evaluated every other year, but my evaluation never has anything to do with how much my students learned.

    The principal has never called me in and said, “Mr. Wright, take a look at these reading scores. Year after year, your students score below the level of other students in the district. Let’s find out why and do something about it.”

    We have standarized tests every year but I’m never shown the results. I don’t know if anybody looks at the data. It’s nobody job and nobody cares. And no matter what the results are, I still get paid the same.

  9. Rose, the proposal is to fire the bottom 25 percent of teachers and keep the top 75 percent of teachers.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The teaching profession needs to develop tools to measure teaching effectiveness or someone else will. The decision to form a labor union rather than a professional association rebounds to their detriment.

  11. a mandatory washout rate is only a half step that only scratches at the underlying issue of good preparation and retention — apart from put some fear in the system. Think of a classroom where you must fail the lower 25% of your students. Will the top 25% be better? sure, by definition (provided your definition is richer than just some standardized test) However, it doesn’t guarantee success with those passing any more than it guarantees failure among those not passing.

    the full step is to institute bonuses for good teachers and results. Provide active feedback so that many can reach their goals Don’t retain those that aren’t working or improving: whether they have tenure or not whether they are in the top 25% or the bottome 25%. When that is coupled with measuring good preparation, then the professional development can begin to move into the future hand in glove with the professional teaching. David is on target … save for his insistance that it can not work if government is in the equation. There are plenty of examples where the government implements this well: eg flight certification and inspection but in the military, for instance, there is teeth behind the rules — internal measures and ultimately outside competition (See “Rules of the Game” a award-winning history book exploring when those become misaligned.)

    the authors co-mingle the notions of performance incentives for good results with those of “combat pay” for more challenging settings: inputs vs. outcomes. Recognize that these ideas are quite different (although not necessarily opposing)

  12. Jack Welch only recommends firing the botton 10%.

    I would be interesting to find that special area to where you will find a supply of teachers after you remove a quarter of them from the school, especially if you are judging them in the short term, and even more so if you involve parents.

    Of course, you could hire better admin and raise pay, and eliminate the problem anyway.

    Does anyone else see this as a management issue? I’m not denying that there are bad teachers, but there are ways to remove them if administrators are consistant. Good management helps create good employees.

  13. Yes, good comments on an idea worth serious consideration.

    One thing to worry about, though: the relationship between the size of the teaching applicant pool and the standards of excellence (or, for that matter, competence) in evaluating teachers.

    In really hard to staff schools, administrators and whoever else would be in charge of evaluating new teachers would be more likely to tolerate inferior teaching if replacing the inferior teacher were particularly difficult.

    Incentive pay could mitigate this but how much incentive pay would it take to make a meaningful difference?

  14. What will take the place of the important functions performed by certification?

    Certification limits access to the field. Artificial scarcity is an attractive policy to any group seeking to raise prices without adding value, in this case the teacher’s unions. To get rid of certification either the unions have to be brought on board or overcome. Either way, that’s ten miles of political bad road.

    Certification provides CYA appeal to school boards and administration. However worthless the certification is in terms of classroom performance it puts the official stamp of approval on the graduates and hiring only those graduates announces to the world that the board and administration will have nothing but the best for their charges regardless of the educational outcome.

    Certification provides an opportunity to hammer various beliefs and attitudes into the proto-teachers. To indoctrinate the indoctrinators. The constituencies that have control of ed schools would want to maintain the opportunity to do that indoctrination. Some of the constituencies that don’t have control of the ed schools will support certification against the day when they hope to influence ed schools and their version of reality can be hammered into the heads of embryonic teachers.

    So, in order:

    Recommendation 1: Reduce Entry Barriers impact on student performance.

    Part of the purpose of certification is as an entry barrier. Whoever/whatever put that barrier in place will want to keep it in place. So “Reduce Entry Barriers” sounds good but if you can’t achieve it who cares how good an idea it is?

    Recommendation 2: Make It Harder to Tenure the Least Effective Teachers

    In a performance-based system tenure is superfluous. High-performance teachers will have no concerns about employment since their measured value will mean their services will be demand. Low-performance teachers shouldn’t get tenure.

    Recommendation 3: Give Bonuses to Highly Effective Teachers Willing to Teach in Disadvantaged Schools

    What bonus? What’s enough? What’s too much? Either is bad for the education system since an over-payed teacher – I know, I know, a contradiction in terms – is a waste of money and an under-payed teacher won’t be working at that lousy school in the lousy neighborhood for which the bonus exists.

    Recommendation 4: Establish Systems to Measure Teachers’ Job Performance

    Of course if you’re going to measure teacher performance as a basis for bonuses you’d better have policies that cover every contingency.

    How’s the bonus split when a teacher takes over in the middle of the year? What happens to the bonus of the teacher who had to relinquish the class? How much control can administration exert when bonuses are on the line? How to deal with administrative interference in the classroom? How to deal with administrative incompetence as it impacts learning/bonuses? What’s in it for the administrators to make sure that teachers teach, learners learn and any bumps in the road are hammered flat before they interfere with teaching or learning?

    Recommendation 5: Track Student Performance and Teacher Effectiveness over Time

    Sure, but see “4”. Also, since money’s involved the tracking system has to be legally defensible. It doesn’t have to be objective but it better not be arbitrary.

    I’d be interested to know how an objective, i.e. rule-based system of measurement, could be refined enough to credibly award performance bonuses to individual teachers under anything other then ideal conditions, i.e. no teacher absences, no classroom turnover, no other interference in the smooth running of the classroom.

    Good luck with any of this in the status quo public education system.

  15. Mathgeek says:

    Let’s think about this. Would you take a job, knowing that 25% of the new hires would be fired after two years? You might if the incentives were high, but not for this type of job.

  16. Pat McGee says:

    Doing away with credentialing is a fantastic idea. The education classes we took to get credential(s) were a waste of time. You learn whether you are a teacher by teaching. Most master teachers and observing college professors do little to help. You become a teacher by teaching, and there is no one model of teaching that will fit every teacher. It is a learning process that you either survive or don’t.
    The nonsense new teachers in California endure to get and keep their credentials is asinine and discourages them from staying in the profession.
    One point… a major reason for students with the best teachers having higher scores is explained by the fact that the best, more experienced teachers also end up with the best students. Younger, inexperienced teachers get the worst classes. They don’t get the best students and best classes until they have been in the same school for many years and have gained seniority within their department.

  17. For Coach Brown and other teachers, if you can spot the good and bad amongst your profession, how then do you measure “good” and “bad?” Are you willing to supply your considerable brain-power and experience to task to develop a rule-based system of evlauation?

    The important question is how to measure teacher effectiveness and for that the starting point must be what the students learn over the course of the year. In the end, nothing else matters, for the students, the parents, the policymakers, the community at large or for any model of merit pay.

    So if you start there, other criteria would have to be looked at, including things like resources, class time, number of days in class and other factors that relate to teacher effectiveness and therefore quality.

    the drawback of course, is that schools would have to start collecting data on the individual student level on a broad range of factors, and I am not sure that is possible at this stage.

  18. Oh and another point for Coach Brown, if we were to find better administrators, do you think the unions would allow the autonomy principals need to hire and more importantly fire teachers for ineffectiveness? In today’s climate, I doubt it and that would be the mose serious drawback.

  19. Pat McGee says:

    The first thing that makes a teacher good or bad is whether the the students entrusted to him can be controlled. If a person cannot control the students, he is not a teacher. Learning to effectively control students is the single most important thing a teacher must do. If a teacher cannot do that, the teacher ought to be let go.
    A person may know volumes of subject material (and most young teachers DON’T know their subjects well), but can’t control students, the subject cannot be taught.
    The second thing a student must learn is that the kids want to know that you are interested in them. If a person is not interested in his students he needs to find something to do for a living.
    A teacher must also find his comfort zone regarding teaching techniques and make the class at least somewhat interesting to the students without entertaining them. Teachers are not entertainers. They educate students in a particular academic discipline.
    There are many “creative” and “innovative” teaching techniques which are very time consuming. One must weigh how much time one puts into those techniques in relation to the subject being taught. I have discovered that most of the newer teaching techniques take up entirely too much time. I have received lessons on topics that would have taken literally weeks to teach. The topics were worth only an hour or even minutes of actual teaching time.
    I hope this is enlightening.

  20. “The first thing that makes a teacher good or bad is whether the the students entrusted to him can be controlled. If a person cannot control the students, he is not a teacher.”

    You can’t be a teacher and make this statement. I’ll let my Special Day teacher’s know that because their students with emotional needs are not always ‘under control’, that they shouldn’t teach.


    Yes for the first question. But I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “rules based” evalution with teachers. There are too many variables. Do you fire a teacher who stuggles in the first two years, but that you see potential in for the future? I’m not talking about the lazy, non-workers, I’m talking about the teacher who does all the wrong things, but he/she doesn’t know any better. How much of a chance do you give them to get better? I’m inclined to give teachers a broad berth when if they are constantly improving, even if it is incremental. Seriously, there are some mistakes that you can’t fix until the next year.

    And the second is that the teacher’s union shouldn’t have much of a choice. There is a process to follow and the administrators just have to do it, even if it is long and tedious. Also, districts can use performence on the negotiating table if they really want to get tough.

  21. BadaBing says:

    First, get rid of the credentialing bureaucracy. It’s a scam. Teachers learn by teaching, not by deconstructing their whiteness or celebrating their victim status, and not by jumping through meaningless hoops of nothingness. Ed schools are tantamount to Marxist re-education camps, and ed school professors are the most worthless set of individuals I have ever seen in my life. Get rid of them. Tell them to take a hike. They don’t help teachers teach.

    Second, hire only teachers that display competency in their respective fields. Give them a couple of years to acclimate to the school’s culture. Get feedback from said teachers’ department heads and students before canning them or awarding them with tenure.

    Third, bonuses are not necessary. Teachers make good money, at least here in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia. Someone will always be able to find better pay elsewhere no matter how high the salary or bonus. If someone wants out, he’ll leave, bonus be damned. Being with your kids and doing something you love is all the bonus any teacher should need.

  22. ucladavid says:

    The teaching credntial has its good and bad points. Most of the classes were run by teachers who havent taught in a real class in a million years. However, the recently retired or the current teachers did bring much insight into the classroom and provided me with useful information. They also had also talk with other new teachers and we compared thoughts and ideas. We also had to observe other teachers which was also very useful.

    However, I didn’t really start to learn how to teach until I started my student teaching and my master teacher giving me some insight on classroom management. My lesson plans were fine, but my management sucked. I would have been eaten alive if I went straight into the classroom. My first master teacher sucked big time and many people have that experience so I got a new one after 3 weeks. My second master teacher saw my potential and gave me some great advice; by the end of the year, I had become a good teacher.

    During my first year, I made some rookie mistakes but I would have made even more (and might be out of the profession) if I didnt have my student teaching. I am almost done with my 3rd year of teaching and my colleagues have seen me make great strides over the 3 years. I might have lost my job after year 1. However, I have gotten 2 great Stull evaluations and my ap has told me that I could teach there as long as I want.

  23. It is always amusing to see radical ideas – such as doing away with teacher credentials – that have absolutely no hope of successful implementation at the state level. The reason teacher credentials do not differentiate between good and bad is that the bar is set so low. ABCTE has a way to get career changers into the classroom without many hoops – but still makes sure that teachers understand research based pedagogy and are masters of their subject matter. We have worked hard over the last year and will get two more states (for a total of 8) to accept this abbreviated, yet rigorous certification. It has been a battle in the states to get this accomplished – and based on that battle, I can honestly say that abolishing credentials altogether is pure fantasy.

    As for observations and observation training – check out UVA’s Classroom Assessment Scoring System ( )– we are training veteran teachers to observe using this rubric for our Master Teacher program. Principals could be trained as well……..

  24. Pay is good in California?

    Average salary in Ukiah is around mid-40’s.

    Average home price is 350.

    It is much worse in the North Bay and the Bay Area.

    Adjusted for inflation and cost of living, teachers are making less now than 10 years ago.

    Say that again?

  25. Pat McGee says:

    Coach Brown, I stand by my statement. Students understand the truth of that statement even if they don’t like it. Any teacher worth his salt would agree with that statement. I have been teaching for 33 years and have seen plenty of people enter and leave the profession. Chaotic classrooms do not allow for learning. I see many people who get paid to teach not have control of their classrooms and end up not being able to teach. I find your statement to be amazing.

  26. Pat McGee says:

    I would like to know how BadaBing defines good pay. I am in California and do not believe teachers are well-paid.

  27. Would you take a job, knowing that 25% of the new hires would be fired after two years?

    Yes. Outside of government jobs, that’s to be expected.

  28. Elizabeth says:

    I’m not a teacher – just a parent, but I don’t see the correlation between salaries and teaching quality. I had my daughter in Simi Valley CA public schools for two years and have nothing but praise for the dedicated teachers and administrators. In Simi, a basic starter home costs more than $500,000. We moved to the South Kitsap School District, in Washington State, where cost the cost of living is far lower (same starter house less than $200K). I pulled my daughter out of public school and put her into private school after less than two months because of the horrible atmosphere and low academic standards (3rd grade in SK was 1st grade in a mainstream class in Simi). My daughter is now a fourth grader (by age she should be third grade) and reads at a HS Senior level. Her teachers at SK considered her a pest because she wanted more challenging work, and tolerated bullying (zero tolerance in Simi). I praise all of you who are good, caring teachers – this is a profession where the bad ones have a disproportionate impact.

  29. BadaBing says:

    Pay starts at $40K in our district and tops out at $81K. You won’t be living in Malibu, but you can live well-enough. Our parking lot boasts Mercedes, BMW’s, Lexus, and other high-end cars and SUV’S. No one seems to be living hand to mouth. I suppose it’s all about expectations and the kind of lifestyle you subscribe to.

  30. ucladavid says:

    There are also some lexi, bmws, and benzs in my lausd parking lot. As a teacher in lausd, max pay is about 75 grand. Plus there is summer school (120 hours X about $50 so 6k), saturday school (80 hours X $50 so 4k, after school tutoring (60-80 hours x $50 so 3-4k), a 6th period (about an extra 10k), national board certified (everything X 15%). Total 75k plus 24 equals roughly 99k. National board certified makes another 15k so about 115k when all said and done.
    If you think that is crazy, I know a few teachers who have done it.

    Also, a few of my credential teachers also still taught in the classroom so had some more money to that.

  31. Pat McGee says:

    How many of you have two incomes? I am referring to living a modest life on one income.

  32. ucladavid, you’ve got it pretty much correct.
    But National Board is 15% of the base salary (not the extra hours) which is about 10K — not 15k

    Also, there are differentials, coordinatorships, etc.

    I’m an athletic director and coach three sports. Yes, it is possible to make six figures in LAUSD but it’s a lot of extra work and it is not all guaranteed.

    Auxiliary periods can be taken away.
    So can coordinatorships, etc….

    Still, a six figure salary puts that teacher in the top 10% of US incomes. Hard to complain from the top tier.

    Elizabeth, you are correct that teacher salaries and teacher quality are not always related.

    But if salaries are high enough to attract more applicants there is at least a strong possibility that more of those applicants will be better qualified and more talented. Still, if administrators do not know how to identify qualifications or talent; if they cannot weed out the inferior teachers or if they practice discrimination or nepotism or if they just don’t care then salaries will not correspond to quality.

    I’ve seen administrators go to great lengths to find and hire quality teachers. I’ve also seen administrators hire the first breathing applicant just to get it over with.