What Should it Take to Become a Teacher?

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

January 19, 2017

By Michael Dannenberg

The New Jersey Department of Education is considering widely loosening teacher certification requirements at select charter schools. Our view is if it makes sense to experiment anywhere with a loosening of new teacher certification requirements, it’s in already high performing charter schools. Before you object, check out this even more aggressive take from some of our respected colleagues in the education reform space describing just how far they are willing to go and why.

Now to be clear, unlike others we’re not ready to support a near full-scale elimination of teacher certification requirements for all first year instructors in all public schools. In fact, in general we think it’s best for prospective teachers to go through quality teacher preparation programs – be they traditional or alternative in nature – that essentially replicate the first year teaching experience prior to completion through heavy embrace of clinical training. New Jersey’s own Relay Graduate School of Education offers an excellent example of that type of applied pre-certification training.

Again though, if it makes sense to experiment with a loosening of new teacher certification requirements anywhere it’s in already high performing charter schools. Our affiliate’s New Jersey State Director opines below in support.



By Paula White, State Director

New Jersey Democrats for Education Reform


Testimony to the New Jersey State Board of Education

Regarding New Jersey Charter School Teacher Certification Requirements


There are three main reasons the pending changes to New Jersey Administrative Code regarding charter school teacher certification should be adopted. First, in general the research indicates a weak relationship between specific teacher certification standards and student outcomes. Second, current teacher assessment certification requirements have a disparate racial impact, thereby undermining diversity in the teaching force. And finally, current teacher certification requirements are inconsistent with the underlying concept animating charter school policy and undermine the ability of those schools to serve children successfully.


First, let me be clear about our views on the importance of teacher quality. Every public school student deserves to be taught by a high-quality teacher. In fact, the research is clear that teacher and principal quality are the most important in-school factors affecting elementary and secondary school student achievement and long-term non-academic outcomes, such as income, incarceration, and health.[i] Nothing we do in schools compares to the impact of ensuring every child is taught by a proven effective, if not highly effective, teacher. These teachers can be identified and should be well-supported financially and otherwise.


Our review of the research along with that of others unfortunately also indicates there is no specific teacher preparation program input measure – not SAT/ACT score, postsecondary education subject matter training (beyond secondary level mathematics), program length, master’s degree attainment, institution selectivity, or current certification standards, including undergraduate grade point average – that accounts for more than a small percentage of teacher effectiveness as measured by associated elementary and secondary school student achievement scores.[ii]


According to a well regarded study by Drs. Allison Atteberry, James Wycoff, and Susanna Loeb, highly respected academics at the University of Virginia and Stanford University, the predictive impact of input metrics such as credential assessment scores, SAT/ACT scores, and general pathway into teaching (alternative versus traditional) explain less than three percent of teacher variation in classroom effectiveness.[iii] An exception exists with respect to the relatively small number of secondary school mathematics and science teachers.


Moreover, unfortunately, current teacher certification assessment results show significant racial disparities. According to the Education Testing Service, there are wide gaps in pass rates on the Praxis II new teacher certification content assessment, for example, particularly when comparing white versus African-American candidates. Depending on the subject area of the relevant new teacher test, pass rate gaps between white and African American test takers range from a low of 19.6 percent to a high of over 49 percent.[iv] In other words, not only are many current certification measures less than modestly impactful, they also undermine racial diversity in the teaching force.


praxis 2 pass rates

* Insufficient sample size.
Source: Linda Tyler et al, Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity: Targeting Support and Intervention for
Teacher Licensure Candidates (Educational Testing Service & National Education Association, 2011)


Test results can and should be used as an indicator of knowledge and skill, but they are not and should not be used as the only measure of teacher quality or an especially high stakes measure even when results are valid, reliable, and show no disparate impact.[v] The proposed regulation strikes the right balance insofar as charter school operators will be empowered to hire on a provisional basis and recommend for standard certification those teachers who prove themselves ready for the rigors of the classroom based on two or more of a variety of metrics, including teacher certification assessment scores, undergraduate grade point average, prior teaching experience, and relevant work experience. In fact, we think it would be wise to add to the list of metrics actual first year teaching effectiveness in raising student achievement. Initial year value-added measurement is the single greatest predictor of future teacher effectiveness by a factor of seven.[vi] Regardless, we believe and hope that adoption of the proposed regulatory change will lead to a higher quality and more diverse teaching force at least in our public charter schools.


Charter schools were founded on the idea that certain authorized public schools should be freed from nearly all education regulation and granted wide autonomy in operation in exchange for meeting clear, outcome-based public accountability standards.[vii] Innovative practices embraced at public charter schools that show promising results contribute to a larger evidence base from which traditional public schools can draw and potentially change their practices as well in furtherance of student achievement and growth.[viii] The proposed charter school teacher certification regulatory change is consistent with that purpose. It is a “pilot program” limited to public charter schools, authorized for only five years, and requires a formal evaluation. In contrast, some have recommended there be virtually no screens for teacher licensure and certification in charter and traditional public schools beyond undergraduate degree and school or district subsequent recommendation – a position we do not endorse absent further evidence.[ix]


Too often in education policy, we conflate assurances with outcomes and fail to correct course when evidence is lacking and children are not learning to their full potential. Such is the case with teacher preparation broadly and teacher certification requirements specifically. In all my years in education, I have never seen a successful school that is not led by an empowered principal working as an instructional leader. The pending charter school teacher certification regulatory change alters course and would empower school leaders further. It should be embraced, studied, and in turn modified or built upon further in the interest of all public school children. I urge its rapid adoption. The status quo is unacceptable.


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[i] See e.g., Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2011 (having a top five percent teacher for just one year raises a child’s lifetime income by $80,000)

[ii] See Mitchel & Aldeman, No Guarantees: Is it Possible to Ensure Teachers are Ready on Day One? (Bellwether Partners, 2016).

[iii] See Atteberry, Loeb, & Wycoff, Do First Impressions Matter? Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness 19 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013).

[iv] Tyler et al., Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity: Targeting Support and Intervention for Teacher Licensure Candidates (Educational Testing Service & National Education Association, 2011).

[v] We are hopeful, for example, that the new edTPA performance-based assessment for new teachers will be found by independent research bodies to be reliable, have predictive validity in terms of elementary and secondary school student achievement, and show no disparate impact. Much as with the pending New Jersey public charter school teacher certification policy change, we await further evaluation.

[vi] See Atteberry, note 3.

[vii] See Barone & Lombardo, A Democratic Guide to Public Charter Schools, (Education Reform Now, 2016).

[viii] See Shanker, “A Charter for Change, Con’t: Less Truth – Fewer Consequences,” Where We Stand, New York Times, July 17, 1988 (“If schools are to improve, they’ll have to support a constant inquiry and search for new and better ways to reach youngsters. If they don’t, the public will look for something other than the public schools to educate our children.”).

[ix] See Mitchel & Aldeman, note 2.