Saturday, May 22, 2010

Letters to the Editor, vol1 i2: Certification and the Alternate Track

A Letter to WSJ complained about charter schools not being allowed to hire non-teachers to teach. He felt that people switching over from pretty much any career would be acceptable as teachers - retirees, engineers, scientists, artists.

I doubt that a long career designing automobile engine parts for Ford, for example, would be good training for an algebra teacher. Oh, that person would have lots of "real-world" knowledge but absolutely no idea of how to deal with a classroom full of teenagers. There has to be some training, some mentoring. There also has to be a vetting process, some way to determine whether the prospect is actually knowledgeable about the subject and able to teach it to kids and I'm not talking about a 30 minute interview with my principal.

If some wunderkind exists, he can get into teaching pretty easily. How? Every state has some form of "peer review" process in which a differently trained person with the desire to become a teacher can submit a portfolio demonstrating knowledge and ability in the various aspects of being a teacher. I did it this way - 100ish pages of descriptions, letters, transcripts, explanations and other evidence. Presto! Four weeks later, I had a license.

Some states are more difficult about it. Teach for America is much easier about it. Results vary, but there has to be some sort of hurdle, else you wind up with too many dilettante teachers who crap out in the first month and leave the students hanging. I've seen this kind of thing happen all too often in private schools (because they don't have to hire credentialed teachers) - incoming genius ready to save the world and show his incredible talents to the poor downtrodden students who had been, until his arrival, horribly confused and mistreated by the "lifers." The office pool was always won by Halloween.

Why do we allow liberals to waste such valuable talent? Because, by and large, it doesn't exist. There just aren't thousands of people willing and able to become teachers -- who haven't got the smarts to do "peer review." Skill in the computer design center working with adults all day and lots of autonomy (that word again!) doesn't carry over to solving the real problems handling a room full of teenagers who couldn't give less of a damn about fractions.

Bottom line: It's pretty damn easy to get a license -- if you've got the potential to be a good teacher. If you don't, then the hoops are useful in weeding you out.

As for the editorial - come on, people. Blaming the failures of charter schools on a perceived lack of autonomy in hiring teachers is pretty lame. Just because most charter schools can't do better than the public schools they steal from despite the selection and rejection of pupils ...

click the header to view the letter and the editorial, below the jump.

We Should Encourage The Talented to Teach
A WALL STREET JOURNAL Letter to the Editor, MAY 20, 2010

Your May 15 editorial "Hobbling Charter Schools" notes, "Teacher certification rules block charters from hiring mid-career changers, retirees, engineers, scientists, artists and other professionals who might best meet the needs of students but have not been officially licensed by the state." What a terrible waste of talent. In my day (the 1940s and '50s) I had a physics teacher in high school who was a physicist at a local company and was one of the best instructors I ever had. We had a retired stockbroker in college who was an outstanding instructor on personal finance.
Why do we allow liberals to waste such valuable talent?
Ralph Hallock
Hayden, Idaho

The editorial began:
"The promise of charter schools is that they'll improve student performance in return for exemptions from the staffing, curriculum and budget requirements of traditional public schools. The reality is often very different. According to a new study from the Fordham Institute, too many charter schools lack the operational autonomy they need to be effective."

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