Fact-Checking Joel Klein: Is it True Most Teachers Think Credentialing is Useless?

Klein joel At the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit this morning, News Corp. executive and former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein claimed that "most" teachers believe the traditional teacher credentialing process–coursework and student teaching followed by a state certification exam–is useless.

"Most of the people who've gone through it don't think the credential is valuable," Klein said.

There are very few polls of the American teacher corps, but the surveys that do exist show Klein is mischaracterizing teachers' views. The majority of teachers believe there is value in entering the profession only after studying education and pedagogy both as a student and a student-teacher, and then taking a certification exam. What's more, teachers who do come into the profession through accelerated, alternative-route programs are the most likely to feel unprepared during their first year in the classroom. 

In 2007 Public Agenda surveyed 865 first-year teachers in high-needs schools, some of whom had graduated from traditional teaching programs, others who entered the profession through Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, and Troops to Teachers. Eighty percent of the teachers with traditional training reported feeling prepared during their first year on the job, compared to just 50 percent of the alternative-certification teachers. More than half of alt-route teachers said they hadn't spent enough time training with an experienced mentor teacher; only 20 percent of traditionally-trained teachers felt the same.

That same year, Education Sector, a think tank that supports alternative-certification programs, polled 1,010 teachers on hot-button issues in school reform. While 54 percent of respondents supported efforts to recruit career-changers into teaching, just 43 percent liked the idea of replacing traditional teacher-training and certification with on-the-job "supervision, observation, and mentoring." 

"Most" teachers, it turn outs, want more preparation for the classroom, not less.

7 thoughts on “Fact-Checking Joel Klein: Is it True Most Teachers Think Credentialing is Useless?

  1. Alice Mercer

    No subtlety at all. The only thing I wonder about with this study is…

    Most of the folks in alt cert programs will be in more challenging placements than those in traditional program. I’ve taught in those placements my whole career, but was in a traditional program. I wonder if folks in traditional program who are in challenging placements are less satisfied than their peers who are in traditional programs, with less difficult placements? I’m pretty sure I’m happier with my program, than my peers who work in low SES schools who did alt cert. This does not mean that my program was perfect, but it also means it wasn’t “useless”. I would say, as I did on Twitter, it was not useful enough. I will say that since I was in a teacher certification program, there has been a concerted effort in the Cal State system to create programs to address teaching in urban and rural schools, and the unique needs of those populations.

  2. Gideon

    The responses to poll questions about preparation may say more about the teachers and their placements than their preparation programs. Teachers who enter through alt-cert programs may have higher standards, be placed in more dysfunctional schools, receive less support, or be less welcomed in their school than traditionally prepared teachers. The Public Agenda study you cite found that alt route teachers were much more likely than traditional route teachers to serve “the hardest-to-reach students,” which certainly could affect how well prepared they felt. Interestingly, the alt-cert teachers were also far less likely to feel that their students are learning. Given that 94% of traditionally prepared teachers in high-needs schools felt their students are learning, it raises the question of whether their standards for learning are high enough and what their preparation programs did to set those standards.

  3. Mark Hesse

    I did alternative training: CUNY’s Teacher Opportunity Program. You still do the coursework on pedagogy, child psych, etc. but start teaching after just a summer’s practicum. There definitely needs to be training and certification and student teaching. Is Klein saying teachers should be rated on student test results, but not be tested themselves for minimum competency? I do think that no program simulates what teachers see in the classroom. I would say a $6000 CUNY Education just as good as a $40000 Teacher’s College program.

  4. Dana

    Klein seemed to be arguing that state certification shouldn’t be necessary at all. He was praising the idea that totally uncertified people, like Salman Khan from the Khan Academy, could theoretically be the best teachers. Of course, Khan gives lecture via online video, doesn’t have to manage actual classrooms, discipline problems, etc.

  5. Dana

    Thanks, Gideon, these are good points that help to explain why alt-route teachers and traditionally-trained teachers might have different views. Still, I think it’s disturbing that Klein presents it as settled fact that “most” teachers found their own training useless and support radically upending the certification process. This doesn’t seem to be true – and I think it’s important to build real support within the profession for reforms.

  6. Gideon

    What “most” teachers believe is clearly debatable. But regardless of what teachers think, there is strong evidence to suggest that teacher preparation and certification needs to be dramatically improved: teacher prep programs have low standards for admissions, clinical experience is lacking, ed school faculty are divorced from practice, certification is not correlated with teacher effectiveness, etc. While Klein may have taken rhetorical liberties with what most teachers believe, I think his overall point is valid.

  7. Mark Palko

    I also came into teaching under an accelerated program that didn’t include practice teaching. The first time I lectured a class was as a full time teacher. That first year wasn’t a complete disaster but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have been a better teacher and my students would have learned more that year had I been given a chance to practice and been mentored first.


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