Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality

December 2001 / Abell Reports / Education

Maryland’s requirement that individuals must complete a prescribed body of coursework before teaching in a public school is deeply misguided.

The importance of good teaching to the academic success of students is intuitively obvious to any parent and is well substantiated by a body of sound research. Correspondingly, ensuring that good teachers staff public schools is a critical policy objective in Maryland and across the nation. All states, including Maryland, have developed regulatory policies under the seemingly logical theory that requiring credentials of teachers is simply good government in action. These regulations prescribe the process for certifying teachers, whereby individuals who want to teach must first complete extensive coursework (usually completed in an undergraduate program), in both the field of education and the subject they intend to teach.

At the heart of this policy is a claim by the education establishment that taking the coursework needed to obtain certification is not only the best, but also the only acceptable means for preparing teachers. This assertion, some claim, is supported by a body of research consisting of 100 to 200 studies. This report reveals in detail the shortcomings found in this research. In fact, the academic research attempting to link teacher certification with student achievement is astonishingly deficient.

To reach this conclusion, we reviewed every published study or paper—along with many unpublished dissertations—cited by prominent national advocates of teacher certification. We found roughly 150 studies,  going back 50 years, which explored or purported to explore the relationship between teacher preparation and student achievement. To our knowledge, there has been no comparable effort by analysts to drill systematically down through these layers of evidence in order to determine what value lies at the core.